Skip to Main Content U.S. Department of Energy
PNNL News Central

New three-year research project hopes to develop new technology to allow liver disease detection via a simple blood test

April 17, 2008 Share This!

Scientists awarded $4.8 million to search for biomarkers for liver disease

RICHLAND, Wash. – No simple blood test exists to determine which of the millions of people infected with hepatitis C virus will develop cirrhosis of the liver or cancer. Now, researchers are developing new technology to find blood proteins that herald the earliest signs of chronic liver disease. If successful, they hope to extend the use of the technology to do the same for many other diseases and to make it commercially available for broad clinical use.

Washington State's Life Sciences Discovery Fund Board of Trustees announced today that the collaboration between scientists at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Washington Liver Transplantation Program in Seattle will receive $4.8 million over the next three years to develop a new proteomics technology and apply it in search of biomarkers for liver disease.

"This is really fantastic," says grant recipient and lead investigator Dick Smith of PNNL. "This funding will support work that is almost impossible to get funded by conventional sources. The grant brings together a larger program that could have significant positive impacts on the health of people, certainly in Washington, but in the whole country as well."

The announcement caps a lengthy selection process by LSDF. “This has been a highly-competitive process. The proposals were weighed on their scientific merits and their abilities to utilize this funding to provide statewide economic returns, to build a competitive life sciences industry and to advance the health of, and health care for, our citizens. These newly-awarded grants will leverage substantial additional investment in Washington State by a variety of other funders such as federal agencies and philanthropic organizations,” says LSDF Executive Director Lee Huntsman.

About 1.6 percent of the U.S. population has signs indicating they have been or are infected with hepatitis C virus, and up to 12,000 people each year die from HCV-induced liver damage and cancer. A percentage of infected people develop various levels of liver disease — the worst requiring liver transplants — but doctors have no way of telling who's most at risk.

PNNL's Smith is leading development of the new technology at DOE's Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory on the PNNL campus. In collaboration with UW's Michael Katze, Smith's group with use proteomics to compare blood and tissue samples from individuals who have advanced liver disease or are healthy to find proteins that indicate the potential for advanced illness.

The researchers' long term goal is to make such technology efficient and inexpensive enough for use in clinical settings. In addition, Smith's development plans include making the technology widely applicable to biomarker searches for other diseases.


The Life Sciences Discovery Fund, a Washington State agency established in May 2005, makes grant investments in innovative life sciences research to benefit Washington and its citizens.

Tags: Fundamental Science, Proteomics

EMSL, the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, is a national scientific user facility sponsored by the Department of Energy's Office of Science.  Located at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., EMSL offers an open, collaborative environment for scientific discovery to researchers around the world. Its integrated computational and experimental resources enable researchers to realize important scientific insights and create new technologies. Follow EMSL on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Interdisciplinary teams at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory address many of America's most pressing issues in energy, the environment and national security through advances in basic and applied science. Founded in 1965, PNNL employs 4,300 staff and has an annual budget of about $950 million. It is managed by Battelle for the U.S. Department of Energy. For more information, visit the PNNL News Center, or follow PNNL on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter.

News Center

Multimedia

Additional Resources