USC launches liver disease study as part of $50.3 million “multi-omics” consortium

The six-site consortium, funded by the National Institutes of Health, will study individuals from ancestrally diverse populations that are traditionally underrepresented in medical research.

The Keck School of Medicine of USC has received funding from the National Institutes of Health as part of a five-year, $50.3 million “multi-omics” study of human health and disease involving six sites. Researchers in the Multi-Omics for Health and Disease consortium will study fatty liver disease, hepatocellular carcinoma, asthma, chronic kidney disease, preeclampsia and other conditions, with a focus on underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.

Throughout the study, researchers will use cutting-edge methods to collect a variety of biological data—including genomics, epigenomics, and transcriptomics—as well as information on patients’ social and environmental circumstances. By combining these datasets over the study period, the consortium aims to answer key questions about the cause of various diseases, as well as develop new tools for diagnosis and treatment. The Keck School of Medicine group will focus primarily on Hispanic patients, ages nine to 18, with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

“This is a silent epidemic,” said Vaia Lida Chatzi, MD, PhD, a professor of population and public health sciences at the Keck School of Medicine and one of the consortium’s principal investigators. “NAFLD usually causes no symptoms. Once children go to the doctor, they may already have damage to the liver.”

For that reason, it’s critical to learn more about the condition’s basis, as well as ways to prevent it, said Max Aung, PhD, an assistant professor of population and public health sciences at the Keck School of Medicine and a principal investigator for the consortium. Already the most common liver disease, NAFLD is on the rise among both Hispanic Americans and in children.

“We’re conducting the first and largest longitudinal study of pediatric NAFLD and at the same time, we’re studying a population that has been historically neglected in biomedical research,” Aung said. Read more about JPB Fellow Max Aung’s research.