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Michael W. Fried, M.D., UNC Center for Gastrointestinal Biology and Disease, Department of Medicine, is studying patients with chronic hepatitis C in order to investigate the effects of alcohol consumption on disease progression. The underlying hypothesis is that alcohol accelerates the rate of liver fibrosis in hepatitis-infected livers through multiple mechanisms that can be individually measured in the laboratory. Studies will determine if chronic alcohol intake enhances the activation of Kupffer cells that increase inflammation of the liver.

Chronic alcohol intake also induces oxidant stress that can be detected by reactive oxygen species and lipid peroxidation products. Oxidant stress is strongly associated with liver fibrosis, including the direct activation of hepatic stellate cells. The host immune response plays a major role in the outcome of hepatitis infection, and alcohol consumption may alter the immune system/virus interaction. Dr. Fried’s group predicts that alcohol use will exacerbate each of these pathogenic processes, and that alcohol abstinence will ameliorate the progression of the disease via these mechanisms.

To successfully complete these studies, Dr. Fried needs to identify patients with hepatitis C who are actively drinking and willing to participate in this research program. He has established a tissue bank at UNC so that liver tissue and blood samples can be stored from patients for these studies.