Vitamin D has proven to be a powerful potential new weapon in the fight against a common liver disease that is currently difficult to treat, according to new research by the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
In a new study published in the journal Cell, Salk investigators reported discovering that a synthetic form of vitamin D — calcipotriol, already approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating psoriasis — flips a genetic switch involved in liver fibrosis.
"Because there are currently no effective drugs for liver fibrosis, we believe our findings would open a new door for treatment," said Ronald M. Evans, a professor in Salk's Gene Expression Laboratory and lead researcher in the Institute's new Helmsley Center for Genomic Medicine.
Liver fibrosis results from excessive fibrous scar tissue that occurs in most types of chronic liver diseases. The primary causes include chronic hepatitis virus infection, excess alcohol consumption and, increasingly, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).
The Evans lab discovered a genetic switch through which calcitriol, a hormonally active form of the vitamin, puts the brakes on fibrosis.
"Preclinical results suggest the 'vitamin D brake' is highly efficacious and led us to believe that the time is right to consider a trial in the context of chronic liver disease," said Evans.
The researchers noted current therapies merely treat the symptoms of liver disease, but don’t stop its progression. They added that clinical trials of vitamin D in the treatment of liver fibrosis are now being planned.
The study was funded, in part, by the National Institutes of Health.
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