A new blood test may provide a safer, relatively pain-free alternative to liver biopsy for some people with chronic liver disease.

In Australia, 30% of adults have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and it is set to become one of our most prevalent chronic diseases.

The Enhanced Liver Fibrosis test (ELF) measures chemicals in the bloodstream that indicate the degree of fibrosis (scar tissue) caused by chronic liver disease. Significant fibrosis suggests progression towards cirrhosis, where scarring is so severe the liver can fail. This can lead to liver cancer or transplant. 264 Australians received a liver transplant in 2015.

Chronic liver diseases that can cause fibrosis include viral hepatitis and alcohol induced damage. However, the prevalence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is predicted to sky-rocket as obesity increases.

Brisbane Hepatologist {liver specialist} Professor Elizabeth Powell says:

“Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease will soon surpass viral hepatitis as the leading cause of liver transplant in Australia. Detecting liver damage is important to allow monitoring for complications such as liver cancer.”

The test’s co-creator, London based Professor William Rosenberg says,

“This test potentially has great benefits to patients and the safety, speed and simplicity of a blood test means people can be easily monitored over time.”

Liver biopsies analysed in pathology laboratories are currently used to assess fibrosis. However, this invasive procedure may be painful and carries a risk of internal bleeding. They therefore cannot be used repeatedly to monitor response to treatment.

Professor Powell adds,

“A lot of resources are going into developing drug treatments for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. When those come to fruition, this test may play a huge role in identifying and monitoring patient response to these therapies.”

A/Professor Graham Jones is a Sydney-based Pathologist. He says,

“Australians have access to some of the world’s highest quality pathology services. Moving towards minimally invasive tests is a great example of innovation that could help reduce patient anxiety, discomfort and health risks.”

Whilst the test is available in Australia, patients must currently pay for it. Australian medical experts are still understanding how the test fits in with existing Australian treatment guidelines for liver disease.