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Japanese boffins could save UK from economic doom

Bacon sarnie'n'beer induced rat liver failure reversed

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Japanese boffins believe they may have developed a means of reversing cirrhosis of the liver among rats and perhaps people, in a development with far-reaching consequences for professional cricketers, hellraising movie stars, layabout drunks, politicians, economists, Catholic priests, journalists and others whose jobs require them to drink heavily.

"There are currently no approved antifibrotic therapies for liver cirrhosis," note the Japanese brainboxes in a paper due to be published in Nature Biotechnology. (Abstract here.) This is plainly not acceptable, particularly in the UK. Following the recent budget, the only hope for the British government to avoid excessive public borrowing and further fiscal decline is a steady and reliable revenue stream from Blighty's increasingly heavily-taxed boozers. If the stalwart defenders of British economic rectitude all die of liver failure - or alternatively give up drinking and live healthily to an unsupportably expensive care-home-worthy age - then we're economically done for.

Fortunately, cutting-edge Nipponese rat-liver repair technology may well be able to save the day and allow the UK's booze-backed public finances to avoid meltdown. It seems that Yasushi Sato and a crowd of Japan's top alco-rat boffins at the Fourth Department of Internal Medicine of Sapporo Medical University came together to tackle the issue of booze-induced liver damage. (We assume the first through third departments deal with other economically important yet medically unsound activities: smoking tabs outdoors under patio heaters, drinking excessive amounts of coffee, betting huge amounts of other people's money on unlikely events, etc.)

Naturally it was first necessary to obtain a group of rats with liver cirrhosis. Other researchers have done similar work in the past by standing their verminous collaborators free rounds of drinks, but things have moved on in the field of lushing-up research rats. In this case, the furry test subjects' livers weren't knackered by subjecting them to a punishing Freddie Flintoff style training regimen of being hurled into giant vats of beer and having to drink their way out.

Rather, these rodents were subjected to normally-lethal doses of dimethylnitrosamine, a deadly liver-busting chemical which was commonly found in beer and bacon sandwiches until the 1970s. Nowadays 90 per cent of the stuff has been removed from human food. However, Sato and his colleagues were able to feed distilled essence of market-traders' breakfast to their furry subjects and cause their livers to pack up almost right away, thus sparing themselves an extended period of devastating miniature murine hellraiser Oliver Reed type antics in the lab.

The boffins were then able to save - or at least "prolong the survival" of - the cirrhotic rats by treating them with "vitamin A–coupled liposomes" which delivered "small interfering RNA (siRNA)" to "stellate cells" in the liver. It is these stellate cells, seemingly, which cause cirrhosis by producing collagen in response to booze or hepatitis. The collagen then hardens up the liver and wrecks it.

But when the small interfering RNA payloads get at the stellate cells, all this stops and the liver is recalled to duty - indeed, the Japanese scientists imply that already-existing collagen can be dissolved, effectively making the the organ as good as new. This is good news, as until now the only treatment for cirrhosis has been to get a new liver from someone who doesn't need theirs - hopefully due to having died peacefully in a car crash or something, rather than having been judicially murdered by an unscrupulous government and harvested for spare parts - and who hasn't put too many miles on it already.

"We hope [the process] will be ready for humans in a few years," Yoshiro Niitsu of the Fourth Department told Reuters yesterday.

Which will be good news for Chancellor Darling here in the UK. ®

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