How can two people lead the same unhealthy lifestyle and yet, one person remains healthy while the other develops fatty liver disease, and is waiting for a liver to become available for a transplant? The answer was discovered in a laboratory in Texas. Helen Hobbs MD is one of the leading bioscience visionaries with her novel lipid metabolism research to improve human health. She is Director at the McDermott center for Human Growth and Development which serves as the Center for Human Genetics at UT South Western.She has recieved Germany’s highly respected Heinrich Wieland prize for her research on lipids. This prestigious prize is given annually to an individual who has conducted outstanding research.
Her interests in fatty liver disease began when a pediatrician approached her. He had several Hispanic children who were quite obese and had developed fatty liver disease. Dr Helen Hobbs began to search for a genetic answer to explain this observation and you may click here to read the 2011 summary of her results published in the journal Science entitled, “Human fatty liver disease: old questions and new insights”.
Faced with the discovery that there is a gene that can predict which person may develop liver cirrhosis or liver cancer, what is the ethical way to handle the knowledge when a 3 year old in a family with this disease also has this gene. Which means this child will have to take extreme precautions. One of them is to prevent getting obese and remain super fit. How do you tell a 3 year old?
African Americans, interestingly, are the group least likely to develop fatty liver disease since this gene is less common than among Hispanics. Caucasians lie inbetween Hispanics and African Americans in their ability to develop fatty liver disease. You may click here to read the details in the 2008 scientific journal, Nature Genetics. For those of you interested in scientific jargon, the gene is PNPLA3. Chromosome number 22 is of specific interest. Some members of four generations of an obese family may carry this gene. Those who carry two copies of this type of gene will get a very sick fatty liver. Those who have only a single copy of this gene, will remain slightly healthier. This gene is inherited.
Fructose travels straight to the liver and is strongly associated with a rise in obesity. Corn syrup contributes fructose. Obesity is associated with fatty liver disease. Carbohydrates add to the problem.
Another ethical question: what is the role of society and community when they observe a person getting super obese? Does one tell them about the connection between this gene, obesity, role of fructose and carbohydrates leading to fatty liver disease?