Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the commonest cause of liver disease, affecting 1 in 4 adults. However, not everyone with a fatty liver goes on to have serious liver problems; only about 20% progress to the more severe form, called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which can lead to liver cirrhosis (where healthy cells are replaced by scar tissue), liver cancer and premature death. Currently, we have no way of telling which people with NAFLD might develop NASH or cirrhosis and there are no medicines ‘on the market’ to treat this condition.
The crucial question is why does NAFLD progress in some people but not in others? The answer to this will pave the way for new diagnostic tests, so NHS resources can be focussed on people with NAFLD who need it most. A detailed understanding of NAFLD will also help us develop the most effective treatments, which could eventually be tailored to individual patients (‘personalised medicine’).