The Royal Free London (RFL) is to set up and lead a new nationwide network to advance liver research after successfully applying for a grant from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR).

Liver disease is continuing to rise and is now the second commonest cause of premature death in the UK. The majority of cost associated with liver disease occurs during the advanced stage, known as cirrhosis. Hospital admissions due to liver disease are rising year-on-year, with most patients being admitted with complications of cirrhosis. Costs to the NHS for liver disease are estimated to exceed £17 billion annually and the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the burden of liver disease, with deaths increasing between 2019 and 2020 by over 20%.

The DEcompensated LIVER Cirrhosis Research Network (DE-LIVER) will include many sectors including specialist clinicians, primary care, patients, industry and research governance, and will set the agenda for liver research for the next five years. The emphasis for the network will be on geographical areas of high disease prevalence or limited research access. 
Dr Gautam Mehta, an RFL consultant hepatologist who is co-leading the network, said: “This is a really important step to ensuring all patients get the best possible care. The aim is to develop a structure around all these stakeholders to share best practices, develop a cirrhosis research map and ensure we are focusing on the most relevant research. This is a unique opportunity to be more strategic and co-ordinate with partners to ensure the right research questions are asked to deliver the maximum impact for patients.

“At the moment there are inequities in liver care and there are no coordinated regional networks for inpatient liver services across the UK, or a multi-stakeholder forum focused on improving research and clinical outcomes for cirrhosis patients. This is what we seek to change in order to effect meaningful change going forward.”

Professor Emmanouil Tsochatzis, NIHR Clinical Research Network North Thames Research Specialty Lead for Hepatology, said: “It is great to see this national network being led from our region.

“DE-LIVER is an important strategic next step in the development of liver research over the next five years and this can only be good news for patients across the country further down the line.”

(PIC L-R: Professor Ravi Jalan, consultant hepatologist at RFH and head of the liver failure group at UCL and Dr Gautam Mehta, who is co-leading the network.)