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Oxford researchers are interested in many aspects of liver biology and seek to understand the spectrum of conditions known as NAFLD using whole body physiological approaches and ex vivo and in vitro experimental systems.

Liver tissue with lipid droplets in four colours
Liver tissue with lipid droplets in four colours

The liver is a very metabolically active organ and is central to fat metabolism in the body. Excess fat that accumulates in the liver gives rise to the spectrum of conditions known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), increasing the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes. NAFLD may remain undetected for many years but can progress to serious liver disease and failure, so researchers are keen to understand the underlying mechanisms and test new strategies to treat the disease.

In Oxford, research includes studies to find better ways of detecting liver disease using novel biomarkers, understand the relationship between NAFLD and diabetes, and investigate the impact of bariatric surgery - used to treat people who are very obese - on NAFLD. Stable isotope tracing and genetic manipulation in primary human liver cells and cells lines is used to probe the pathways involved in liver metabolism. Isotope tracing studies and liver imaging carried out using MRI techniques at the OCMR are used to study liver metabolism in clinical studies, for example, to understand the effects of diet or pharmacological agents such as steroid hormones. 

The liver is a circadian organ and carries out diverse functions in different phases of the circadian clock. Researchers are interested in how systems controlling energy metabolism and inflammation, in particular the glucocorticoid signalling network, are connected to circadian timing machinery in the liver and elsewhere.

The Diabetes and Metabolism theme within the Oxford NIHR Biomedical Research Centre supports clinical research in many of these areas.