person in gray jumper spitting in tube

Researchers from GMRF’s Liver Research Unit are aiming to improve early detection of liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), particularly in rural and remote areas and communities with high Indigenous representation, through a simple saliva test.

People with liver cirrhosis have an increased risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), which has the fastest growing rate of cancer-related deaths in Australia. Considering the majority of HCC develops in livers with underlying cirrhosis, recognising this disease early is crucial, yet difficult.

“Death rates from HCC in Queensland are higher in regional and remote areas than in metropolitan centres and this is further amplified in communities with high Indigenous representation,” said Professor Darrell Crawford, Director of Research at GMRF and Chief Investigator on this project.

Early detection is crucial

“Early identification of cirrhosis is critical to identify the at-risk individuals who will benefit from further investigations to detect HCC when curative therapies are more likely to be successful.”

Current methods of diagnosis, including transient elastography and liver biopsy, are only available in major centres, with limited access for those living in regional or rural areas.

Building on previous research

Previous GMRF research shows that proteins found in blood and used to indicate cirrhosis are also found in saliva. Using saliva – a more easily collected and transported body fluid – to diagnose cirrhosis may make diagnostic strategies more accessible in remote areas.

“The development of a simple saliva test will revolutionise the way cirrhosis is currently detected, especially in rural and Indigenous communities,” said Professor Crawford.

This project is aiming to reduce the necessity for patients to undergo invasive procedures, such as liver biopsy, which carry a significant risk.

“Once cirrhosis is confirmed, patients can undergo surveillance for HCC and other complications such as portal hypertension, ensuring detection at earlier stages.”

Learn more about our Liver Research Unit

This research grant is funded by Ramsay Research Hospital Foundation