Dr Varinder Athwal

Liver disease.

Dr Varinder Athwal was recently awarded a Guts UK-funded development grant (£33,011) to begin research into Cystic Fibrosis related liver disease. Dr Athwal’s team based at the University of Manchester are investigating whether they can improve clinical detection and management of Cystic Fibrosis. See what we found out when we spoke with Varinder.  

Can you give us a brief outline of your research? 

When we think of Cystic Fibrosis (CF), we tend to think about it as a genetic disorder that directly affects the lungs, due to the build-up of thick, sticky mucus. Treatment and management of symptoms has therefore been aimed primarily on the lungs, which has seen huge improvements in life expectancy and quality of life. This is fantastic: however, CF is a disease that has effects throughout the body. What we’ve been finding is that about one third of people with CF have an advanced stage of liver disease. In fact, CF has a huge impact on the digestive system. This is becoming the next challenge to improving patients’ quality of life.  We’ve begun our research to determine the cause of scarring on the liver, how we can better diagnose and treat patients, and manage these symptoms.  

You’re now well underway with your research. How has it been going? 

There are always a few hiccups with research, due to factors that you can’t anticipate beforehand. However, it’s been going really well. The first part of our research is based in the laboratory and we are also working with patients in CF clinics. In Manchester, we have one of the largest and longest established clinics for adults with CF in the UK. We hope to work out why some get liver disease and others do not: there’s certainly lots to do over the next few months.  

How long have you been involved in gastroenterology? 

I have been involved in hepatology (liver) for a long time, training in the North West, Midlands and in the USA. My PhD and research interests after looked at liver fibrosis (scarring), and I work in clinic as a consultant hepatologist. I am also a senior lecturer at the University of Manchester. As a researcher, this topic is definitely fresh for us, and we hope it will lead to great developments for the care, treatment and lives of all those affected by cystic fibrosis.  

What does the future hold after completing this Guts UK-funded research 

This very generous grant from Guts UK is a one-year long opportunity for us to kickstart research into an area that desperately needs treatments and answers. I aim to set a model in place with which we can continue our research. I hope our Guts UK-funded study can become a springboard to secure future funding and investment into such a promising area.  

Watch this space for future developments! 


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