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National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)

Media Advisory: New compound helps find early signs of liver damage

News Release

NIH-funded study provides hope for noninvasive detection of early liver disease.

What: A new compound that binds to, and enables MRI imaging of, liver cells in the early stage of disease, has been developed by scientists supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the NIH.  Researchers report that, in imaging studies of animal models of liver disease, the new compound (a protein-based MRI contrast agent) can accurately detect early stages of chronic liver disease, including mild fibrosis. The new compound was also able to assess the severity or stage of liver damage without the need of biopsy. An invasive procedure that involves the surgical removal of liver tissue, biopsy is the current standard for diagnosing and staging chronic liver diseases.

Illustration of early stage fibrosis detection

Article: M Salarian, RC Turaga, S Xue, M Nezafati, K Hekmatyar, J Qiao, Y Zhang, S Tan, OY  Ibhagui, Y Hai, J Li, R Mukkavilli, M Sharma, P Mittal, X Min, S Keilholz, L Yu, G Qin, AB Farris, Z-R Liu, and JJ Yang. Early detection and staging of chronic liver diseases with a protein MRI contrast agent. Nature Communications DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-11984-2 (Oct. 29, 2019).

Who: NIAAA Director George F. Koob, Ph.D., is available to comment on this research.

Funding:  This research was funded by NIAAA through a NIH Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program grant to InLighta BioSciences L.L.C., of Atlanta, Georgia.  The principal investigator is Jenny J. Yang, Ph.D., the founder and president of InLighta Biosciences.   Dr. Yang is also a Professor of Chemistry in Georgia State University’s Center for Diagnostics & Therapeutics in Atlanta.  Additional support was provided by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, the National Cancer Institute, and the National Center for Research Resources.

About the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA):
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health, is the primary U.S. agency for conducting and supporting research on the causes, consequences, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of alcohol use disorder. NIAAA also disseminates research findings to general, professional, and academic audiences. Additional alcohol research information and publications are available at

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH):
NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

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