Posted 17 October 2023

Rising Star fellow Kiryu Yap

Liver disease is a painful, debilitating illness that is often fatal. The most common cause is fat accumulation in the liver, which results in a condition called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

This particular form of the disease causes liver inflammation and scarring progressively over time, which ultimately compromises the liver’s function, leads to liver failure, and a high risk of death.

“Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease affects more than 25% of Australians, including children, and this is set to grow. Once livers are irreversibly damaged, the only treatment is a liver transplant,” says Dr Kiryu Yap, whose Rising Star Fellowship has been supported by the L.E.W. Carty Signature Grant.

But transplantation is not always a lasting cure.

Any kind of transplant carries a risk of rejection along with side effects caused by anti-rejection drugs. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease has an additional risk though when it comes to transplant – that the disease will return.

“Up to 30% of patients have the disease come back again in the newly transplanted organ,” say Kiryu. “This means the cycle starts all over again but without the hope of a transplant.”

Kiryu, however, is aiming to improve those odds.

“I am working on developing a new type of treatment based on regenerative medicine, using a patient’s own cells to grow their own replacement liver tissue,” he explains.

“We aim to transplant miniature liver tissues grown in the lab which are called organoids, from stem cells generated from blood.”

“This project will pave the way to further development of an actual cure for patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.”