Dr. Cynthia Levy is assistant director at the Schiff Center for Liver Diseases, part of UHealth, the University of Miami Health System. For more information about clinical trials for patients with liver disease call 305-243-4615 or Click Here for the University of Miami’s health news blog.
Marlo Cecilio suffered with debilitating itching on her arms, neck, stomach, and feet for 20 years before a blood test revealed that her liver enzymes were elevated far beyond the normal range. Chronic itching can be a sign of liver disease, but it is often overlooked or misunderstood by patients and their doctors.
Following a liver biopsy, Marlo was diagnosed with Primary Biliary Cholangitis (PBC), a rare disease that destroys the bile ducts in the liver and affects mostly middle-aged women. PBC progresses slowly and can be difficult to detect. Over time, the disease causes fibrosis in the liver, which then advances to cirrhosis.
Under the care of Dr. Cynthia Levy, assistant director at the Schiff Center for Liver Diseases, Marlo, 48, enrolled in a clinical trial to control her itching. The Schiff Center for Liver Diseases, part of UHealth, the University of Miami Health System, is currently enrolling patients in over 30 clinical trials for patients with liver disease. “If I help just one person by participating in research, I am happy,” says Marlo.
Upon her initial diagnosis, Marlo’s PBC had reached stage 3 out of 4, where stage 4 indicates cirrhosis of the liver. Using Fibroscan technology, physicians at UHealth’s Schiff Center for Liver Diseases can accurately and non-invasively determine a patient’s stage of liver disease. The Fibroscan testing helps physicians properly place a patient in a clinical trial suitable for their type and stage of disease usually without the need for a liver biopsy.
Although Marlo does not know if she was the recipient of the drug being tested in the clinical trial, her itching abated and she has continued to enroll in additional trials as they become available. “They really have made life so much easier for me,” she says.
The fact that PBC affects mostly women in the prime of their lives is still a medical mystery, but Dr. Levy hopes that clinical trials will offer some insight into the causes and potential cures for liver diseases of all kinds. “Patients sometimes express concern about participating in clinical trials, but the drugs being tested in clinical trials have already been through many previous studies in animals, healthy individuals and even in other patients with liver disease. We closely monitor all study participants for possible development of any adverse event. There is nothing to fear,” says Dr. Levy.
Dr. Levy stresses the importance of early detection and follow-up for patients with signs or symptoms of liver disease. “Any elevation of liver enzymes in a standard blood test should be further evaluated,” she says.
Furthermore, once a patient is diagnosed with PBC, they should be closely monitored to find out whether they are responding to treatment, says Dr. Levy. Liver disease has a greater chance of advancing in patients who do not respond to therapy after one year. Patients who are closely monitored can move on to a second line of therapy or may be a candidate for a clinical trial if they are not responding to initial therapy.
More information on the clinical trials available at UHealth’s Schiff Center for Liver Diseases is available at schiffcenter.org/clinicaltrial.
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