Linda: Paying it Forward

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When Linda G. agreed to participate in a clinical trial at Mercy to seek treatment and a cure for nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH, she wasn’t thinking about herself, she was thinking about paying it forward for others.

“My thought,” she said, “was that if it couldn’t help me, maybe it could help someone in the future.”

But her thoughtful approach didn’t take into account the research work and track record of the doctors and staff at Mercy. Based on Mercy’s research history and commitment, for Linda and others currently diagnosed with NASH, the future could be very soon.

NASH is a form of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a condition in which excess fat is stored in the liver. Closely linked to the triple epidemic of obesity, pre-diabetes and diabetes, NASH can lead to damage and inflammation of the liver, leading to excessive scarring and in some cases cirrhosis or liver cancer.

And the worst part of the disease, there are currently no approved medications or standard treatments for it. 

At least not yet.

NASH: The Search for a Treatment

Linda was initially diagnosed with Stage 3 NASH in early 2019, after a routine endoscopy. From there she was referred to Mercy hepatologist, Dr. Anurag Maheshwari, who performed a liver biopsy. The results were then reviewed by Dr. Paul Thuluvath, Medical Director of Mercy’s Institute for Digestive Health & Liver Disease. It was Dr. Thuluvath who would ask Linda if she’d be interested in participating in a clinical trial.

Dr. Thuluvath would be the right one to recruit a patient for a research trial. He’s responsible for overseeing over 50 clinical trials currently being conducted at Mercy; some of which are focusing on multiple levels of treating and curing the causes and outcomes of NASH.

According to Dr. Thuluvath, due mainly to the obesity epidemic, an estimated 75 million people in the U.S. have fatty liver disease and of those nearly 4 million will develop cancer. “That’s a huge number,” he said. “That’s why we can’t just think about what we can do in the future, we have a responsibility to try to find a cure now.”

A Commitment that Can Help with a Cure

For patients such as Linda, volunteering for a clinical trial is a commitment in itself. Linda, who works part time in the meat department of a grocery store, lives in a senior housing facility on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, an hour and a half drive to Mercy. As part of the clinical trial she takes medication daily, then once a month makes the trip to Baltimore, where she spends several hours at Mercy being run through a series of tests from drawing blood to continually checking her vitals.

Clinical trials such as the NASH studies have a history of success at Mercy. Mercy was very active in clinical trials that contributed to the development of the cure for hepatitis C.  It’s Dr. Thuluvath’s  goal to achieve the same with NASH.

“Finding a cure for hepatitis C was like a miracle,” Dr. Thuluvath noted. “We’re hoping to get to the same place with NASH in the near future.”

Which means clinical trial volunteers such as Linda are not only facilitating the future, but could ultimately benefit from their own contributions.

Making a Difference

“Participating in the clinical trial has never been about me,” Linda noted. “I have nieces and nephews and I worry that they could suffer from NASH as well. So if I can help make a difference for them or really, for anyone, that would make this all worthwhile.

But my experience with Mercy has been so overwhelmingly positive and professional that I don’t doubt they’ll help develop a cure,” she concluded. “And if I can benefit, well, I’m okay with that too.”

The Melissa L. Posner Institute for Digestive Health & Liver Disease at Mercy provides diagnosis and treatment for a range of gastroenterology issues including heartburn, liver disease, bowel conditions, motility disorders and pancreatic disease.