liver bile duct

This image from the bile duct of a mouse model shows the expression MMP-7 (shown in brown), an enzyme that may serve as a biomarker for early diagnosis of biliary atresia, the most common cause of pediatric liver transplants in the United States.

After analyzing a collection of infant blood samples, scientists at Cincinnati Children’s report that the enzyme matrix metallo-proteinase-7 (MMP-7) served as an effective biomarker for biliary atresia, with greater than 90 percent sensitivity and specificity. 

Findings appeared in November 2017, in Science Translational Medicine.

Biliary atresia is the most common cause of liver transplants for children in the United States. Finding a strong biomarker candidate could allow for earlier diagnosis and treatment, which could reduce the numbers of children who wind up on transplant waiting lists.

“From a broad screen of over 1,000 proteins, we found a unique protein associated with biliary atresia. Testing this protein as a diagnostic biomarker in two additional groups of babies to validate accuracy, it passed with flying colors,” says senior investigator Jorge Bezerra, MD, Director, Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition.

The study’s first author was Chatmanee Lertudomphonwanit, MD, who has appointments at Cincinnati Children’s and Ramathibodi Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand.

In mouse models, the researchers learned that MMP-7 is released during bile duct injury, which promotes duct obstruction. Future research will explore whether an experimental MMP-7 inhibitor that worked in mice can serve as a potential treatment for infants.