Autoimmune Liver disease

What it is:

Autoimmune liver diseases are the result of the immune system attacking the liver and bile ducts. In time scarring builds up and blocks bile flow and interferes with the proper functioning of the liver.

What we know:

Autoimmune liver diseases such as primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), primary biliary cholangite (PBC) and autoimmune hepatitis (AIH) appear to be caused by a combination of genetics and as-yet-unknown environmental triggers such as bacteria, toxins or viruses. Autoimmune liver diseases tend to affect more women than men.

What the CLF is doing:


  • The standard treatment for AIH is corticosteroids (most often prednisone) and azathioprine (Imuran). Therapy with a combination of these drugs is effective in 85-90 per cent of patients with liver tests returning to normal after a year. Unfortunately, prednisone has many side effects including body changes (such as weight gain) that can be difficult for patients – especially adolescents – to deal with. With a CLF research grant, Dr. Alvarez (University of Montreal, Quebec) used a laboratory model of AIH to study new immunotherapies with minimal side effects.


  • PBC is far more prevalent within First Nations communities than the general population. Studies in BC have shown that it is the leading cause of liver transplant referrals among First Nations. Although research has suggested the PBC has both genetic and environmental triggers, the specific genetic factors are still unknown. Dr. Laura Arbour and her colleagues (University of British Columbia, British Columbia) pursued genetic studies with First Nations to try and determine the key factors contributing to PBC. At the same time, Dr. Andrew Mason, another CLF funded researcher, used a newly discovered viral model to test the possible role of a virus in triggering PBC.


To learn more about PSC click here  PBC click here

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