”We are exploring a novel diagnosis and treatment for NASH”

Publicerad 7 oktober, 2020

Myriam Aouadi, Group Leader for the NASH project, Centre for Infectious Medicine, Department of Medicine, Karolinska Institutet is together with her team looking at non-invasive diagnosis method and treatment for NASH.

Myriam is receiving support from KI Innovations START team and we asked her a few questions about her journey, her learnings so far and her plans for the project.

Provide a short summary of the project that you intend to create impact from.

Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is the most common chronic liver disease worldwide, with 6 % of the general population affected. While NASH will soon be the leading cause for liver failure, cancer and death, before alcoholism and viral hepatitis, there are currently no non-invasive diagnosis tool and no approved pharmacological treatment. Oxidative stress is an important trigger of NASH. It is particularly high in obese patients with pre-diabetes and diabetes, who are particularly predisposed to NASH. While anti-oxidants have been considered as attractive drugs, they fail to improve liver function long term and induce serious adverse effects. We have discovered a microRNA (miR-144) that blocks the natural anti-oxidant response. The levels of miR-144 are high in blood and livers of patients with NASH. Silencing the expression of the miRNA restored the antioxidant response, we therefore propose miR-144 as a biomarker and a therapeutic target for NASH.

Who is the future user of the diagnostic tool and what impact do you foresee that your invention could have?

We are exploring miR-144 as a non-invasive diagnosis method and treatment for NASH. Considering the lack of non-invasive diagnosis tool and approved pharmacological treatment for NASH, we foresee a high impact of our approach in patients predisposed for NASH, such as obese individuals, and patients with previously diagnosed NASH. The ability to diagnose NASH with a biomarker would greatly help in the prevention of the development of NASH into liver failure and cancer.

What is the current status of your project from an impact creation point of view?

We have a patent application pending. Thanks to an exploratory pre-seed grant from the Novonordisk foundation, we are currently validating the use of miR-144 as a biomarker in multiple cohorts of NASH patients. We are also testing the validity of miR-144 as a therapeutic target in pre-clinical models.

What steps have you taken towards impact creation through commercialization?

We have filed a patent application and with the results from our current studies, we hope to lay a solid foundation to generate a diagnosis tool. We intend to join forces with experts in miRNA targeting to test the validity of miR-144 as a potential therapeutic target for NASH.

What are your key learnings so far in relation to impact creation and commercialization?

One of the most important learning points is to surround yourself with people who have expertise that you do not have early on. Whether on the commercial or drug development side. For us the commercial side was a completely new area where we needed guidance and support. Another important aspect is to project yourself and think about the feasibility of a method. For instance, if it is a diagnosis tool, such as the one we hope to develop, would it be feasible to use in the setting of a hospital. We are still in the learning process and there are many things to consider that we do not usually think about in the setting of an academic laboratory.