Liver Disease

Liver cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer death worldwide and the third most common in Asia. In Australia, rates of liver cancer have trebled over the past 25 years.

The Storr Liver Unit, headed by the Robert W Storr Professor of Hepatic Medicine, is based within the Westmead Millennium Institute at Westmead Hospital. The Unit conducts interactive programs of clinical and laboratory-based research for the prevention and treatment of liver disease.

The Foundation has also provided support to the Cooperative Transplantation Research Group to improve the outcomes for people undergoing liver, heart and kidney transplants.

Robert W Storr Professor of hepatic medicine: Professor Jacob George (2006-current)

Professor Jacob George

Professor Jacob George was appointed to the Robert W Storr Chair of Hepatic Medicine in November 2006.

Professor George joined the University of Sydney in 1998 after undertaking postdoctoral research at the University of California, San Francisco where he received the American Liver Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in 1996.

His research focuses on non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and hepatic fibrosis. He is also researching the molecular and cellular basis for disease progression in chronic hepatitis C.

Robert W Storr Professor of hepatic medicine: Professor Geoff Farrell (1997-2006)

Professor Geoff Farrell

The Robert W Storr Chair of Hepatic Medicine was held by Professor Geoff Farrell from inception until January 2006.

Professor Farrell is a world leader in the field of research into the pathogenesis of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and particularly its clinically relevant form, non alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).

Storr Liver Unit research programs

Scott Read: PhD Student

Liver cancer is one of the two major causes of death for people with cirrhosis, the other one being liver failure often treated by liver transplantation. The rate of liver cancers in Australia has doubled during the last two decades and is forecast to treble again by the year 2020, largely because of hepatitis C. The Medical Foundation Fellow is examining cellular processes by which liver cancer cells multiply and survive at the expense of normal liver cells.

Fatty liver disorders are by far the commonest form of liver disease. Research at the Storr Liver Unit is directed at correcting early changes in liver disease so as to prevent cirrhosis.

The Storr Liver Unit is also involved with a large Asian Pacific study of hepatitis B treatment. Results of this study have shown that successful antiviral treatment not only reduces liver failure for hepatitis B, it also reduces the instance of liver cancer by 50%. Liver cancer is usually the result of cirrhosis due to hepatitis B or hepatitis C.

Cooperative Transplantation Research Group: Dr Alexandra Sharland (2004-2008)

Dr Alex Sharland

With a Program Grant from Sydney Medical School Foundation, Dr Alexandra Sharland and associated scientists of the Cooperative Transplantation Research Group are researching ways in which to improve the outcomes for people undergoing liver, heart and kidney transplants.

End-stage organ failure currently affects over 15,000 Australians, and this number is projected to grow exponentially over the next 20 years due to the increasing prevalence of both type II diabetes mellitus and chronic Hepatitis C infection. Liver and heart transplants are life-saving procedures, while kidney transplantation provides not only improved survival and quality of life, but also economic benefits when compared with dialysis.

Access to transplantation, however, is declining, with median waiting times for kidney transplantation increasing steadily over the past two decades. Moreover, although the early results of transplantation are now excellent, within 10 years over half the grafts will be lost due to a combination of chronic rejection and the toxic effects of immunosuppressive drugs.

A variety of approaches will be needed to address the increasing disparity between supply of and demand for organs for transplantation. Of critical importance are public health and other measures designed to prevent the development of end-stage organ failure and its antecedent conditions.