Dr. Deng receives $2 million NIH grant to find ways to reduce liver inflammation caused by high-fat diet

Former COBRE Project PI, Dr. Zhong-bin Deng, has been awarded another NIH R01 to determine mechanisms involved in gut dysfunction in fatty liver disease

Approximately ¼ of US adults have fatty liver disease, associated with obesity and a high fat diet. Fatty liver can progress to hepatitis, cirrhosis and even liver cancer. UofL researcher Zhong-bin Deng (former COBRE Project PI) has received a new grant from the National Institutes of Health to investigate how a high-fat diet contributes to fatty liver disease and identify processes that may reduce liver inflammation and lead to new treatments. Deng’s previous research revealed mechanisms by which dietary fat causes changes in the structure of epithelial cells, which comprise the lining of the walls of the intestines. When gaps form between these cells, toxins move from the gut to the liver, where they cause an immune response and inflammation.  Dr. Deng, has been awarded $2 million from the NIH over five years to further investigate how these toxins cause the immune response in the liver, as well as test interventions that may reduce it.

Deng’s research seeks to further understand the mechanism that leads to the gaps in the epithelial cells, which allow toxins produced by bacteria in the gut to move to the liver via the portal vein, known as the gut-liver axis. As part of the project, the researchers also will test whether an oligosaccharide found in human breast milk can be used to regulate the gut environment and mitigate the impact of the high fat diet on liver inflammation. Results from Deng’s previous research were published in Hepatology in 2021.