A £1 million (US$1.5 million) clinical research facility dedicated to combating liver disease has opened at Imperial College London in the UK.

Situated adjacent to the Liver and Antiviral Unit at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust in Paddington, the Robert Hesketh Hepatology Clinical Research Facility comprises four outpatient rooms and four day-case beds, offering a combination of patient care and research capability.

The new unit will accommodate 50 researchers, doctors and nurses from Imperial College London, who will work together to help liver patients and gain a better understanding of the disease and its treatment. All patients will have the opportunity to take part in the facility’s clinical research programmes and some will be able to enrol in clinical trials, the college noted.

The research will address the four main causes of liver disease – alcohol (alcoholism is responsible for 70% of chronic liver disease), liver fat, chronic hepatitis B and chronic hepatitis C – as well as liver cell and bile duct cancers.

One of a number of clinical trials at the unit will look at whether treating hepatitis C patients with warfarin can reduce scarring in the liver following liver transplantation, when hepatitis C has recurred and is causing rapid disease progression. Another focus will be new protease and polymerase inhibitors active against hepatitis C.

Liver disease is the fifth most common cause of death in the UK and disease rates are increasing rapidly, particularly in the young and middle-aged. This is in contrast to other common conditions such as heart disease and cancer, Imperial College pointed out.

The Robert Hesketh Hepatology Clinical Research Facility is part of the UK’s first Academic Health Science Centre (AHSC), created through a partnership between Imperial College London and Imperial College NHS Trust.

“Having the clinical and research facilities together, with NHS and university staff working side by side, means we will be able to achieve the goal of our AHSC – seeing the research we carry out rapidly benefiting patients,” commented Professor Howard Thomas of Imperial College’s Division of Medicine, who is director of the new unit.