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Lena Tomcotter
25 FEBRUARY 2015

Lena Tomkotter – Postdoctoral Research Fellow Award

Research is integral to the mission of the American Liver Foundation and is essential to finding new ways to prevent, treat and cure liver disease. Supporting early-career scientists is critical to this effort. Since 1980, the ALF Research Awards Program has provided more than $25 million in grants funding to more than 800 promising scientists who are making the study of liver disease their life’s work.

In 2014, the American Liver Foundation provided funding to 11 early-career scientists from some of the nation’s leading academic institutions. These researchers are contributing to the knowledge of how liver diseases develop and progress. Their discoveries may one day go beyond the laboratories and into clinical practice, aiding in drug development and other interventions that will ensure the health of millions of Americans.

Lena Tomkötter MD
Department of Surgery, NYU School of Medicine
ALF Thomas E. Starzl MD Postdoctoral Research Fellowship

Hepatic (liver) fibrosis is scarring of the liver caused by injury from chronic diseases, including viral hepatitis, primary sclerosing cholangitis and chronic alcohol abuse. It is one of the most significant public health concerns worldwide and increases a person’s risk of developing liver cancer.

Liver cirrhosis occurs in the late stages of fibrosis and causes the deaths of approximately 32,000 Americans each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Worldwide, deaths from cirrhosis and liver cancer rose by 50 million per year over two decades, according to a 2013 World Health Organization study.

Currently, few, if any, treatments exist to either slow or reverse the course of liver fibrosis.

Dectin-1, a receptor found in some immune cells that responds to fungal pathogens, may have a role to play in understanding and eventually treating liver fibrosis and cirrhosis. Research has shown that patients with genetic Dectin-1 deficiency are at high risk for recurrent fungal infections.

Though there is not yet an understanding of the mechanisms underlying it, research by Dr. Tomkötter and her colleagues at NYU School of Medicine revealed that a lack of Dectin-1 is associated with greater liver inflammation, scarring and cancer. In fact, a lack of Dectin-1 markedly accelerates liver fibrosis and liver cancer.

This suggests that Dectin-1 is an important biomarker for measuring the presence of liver disease and that targeting of Dectin-1 may be an attractive strategy for experimental therapeutics in chronic liver disease and liver cancer. Dr. Tomkötter’s ALF grant will help further this research.

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