Tuesday, December 1, 2020

URSP Student Timnit Sisay Explores the Relationship between Rheumatologic Autoimmune Disease and Non-Alcoholic Liver Disease

For my research project, I am studying the relationship between rheumatologic autoimmune disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Fatty liver is defined as fat build-up in the liver, and NAFLD refers to excess fat in the liver of individuals who do not excessively consume alcohol. Fatty liver is a common form of liver disease which affects about 25% of adults worldwide. Fatty liver and/or NAFLD prevalence is expected to continue to increase because of the rise of its risk factors (high blood pressure, type II diabetes, high cholesterol, and high BMI) as well as the rise of the sedentary lifestyle and western diet.

Why am I interested in the relationship between NAFLD and rheumatologic autoimmune disease? Preliminary data and surveys have shown that individuals with rheumatologic autoimmune disease may have a higher risk of NAFLD. This may be due to the inflammatory environment caused by autoimmune disease or medications (e.g., corticosteroids) which are taken by autoimmune disease patients. However, the relationship between these two diseases has not been studied nor definitely proven. Furthermore, autoimmune disease is an inflammatory condition which suggests that there may be immune system abnormalities. Therefore, I am interested in determining whether inflammatory disease is correlated with NAFLD. Also, I will determine if having a diagnosis of both NAFLD and rheumatologic autoimmune disease is correlated with other factors such as age, gender, and race/ethnicity. In addition, NAFLD prevalence will be determined by using metabolic syndrome as a surrogate for NAFLD diagnosis.

For me, a typical research day involves reading literature, analyzing data, and using statistical software. Thus far, I have enjoyed learning about the complex and interconnected relationship between inflammation, rheumatologic autoimmune disease, NAFLD, and metabolic syndrome. I hope that the results of this research can be useful for treating the patient population affected by NAFLD and autoimmune disease. Furthermore, this project aligns with my future goals. I have been enjoying the process of learning about autoimmune disease and NAFLD. This project has not only solidified my interest in medicine, but has made me even more excited to continue on this path.