What is Cirrhosis?

Cirrhosis is a chronic liver disease in which normal liver cells are damaged and replaced by scar tissue. This scar tissue prevents the liver from performing important functions such as processing nutrients, hormones, and detoxifying drugs and poisons, including alcohol. Excessive alcohol intake is the most common cause of cirrhosis.

Liver cirrhosis is ranked as the 5th to 7th leading cause of death among adults 25-60 years old. It is responsible for approximately 25,000 deaths per year in the United States, a mortality rate which is roughly equivalent to that caused by stroke, HIV or type I diabetes.

Approximately 90% of deaths attributed to cirrhosis are estimated to be preventable since excessive alcohol intake is the most common cause of cirrhosis. However, it is also estimated that 40-60% of chronic liver disease is related to hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, the most common chronic bloodborne infection in the United States, with approximately 4 million people infected. About 20% of the HCV infected individuals develop chronic liver disease and cirrhosis. Chronic liver disease often shows no symptoms, and many patients are found to have the disease during the course of physical examination for an unrelated illness.

No curative therapy is currently available for cirrhosis except for liver transplantation. Due to an insufficient pool of donors, many patients die while they are on the donor waiting list.

Scientists of the Cirrhosis Research Program are working to find new ways to treat cirrhosis. Their goals are to develop gene therapies for the treatment of liver cirrhosis, to develop a new generation of bioartificial liver systems, and to promote cutting-edge science in non-parenchymal liver cell biology.