Primary Biliary Cirrhosis Treatment (PBC)

  • Medical Author:

    John M. Vierling M.D. is Professor of Medicine and Surgery at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, where he also serves as Director of Baylor Liver Health and Chief of Hepatology. In addition, he is the Director of Advanced Liver Therapies, a center devoted to clinical research in hepatobiliary diseases at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital. Dr. Vierling is board certified in internal medicine and gastroenterology and a Fellow of the American College of Physicians.

  • Medical Editor: Leslie J. Schoenfield, MD, PhD
    Leslie J. Schoenfield, MD, PhD

    Leslie J. Schoenfield, MD, PhD

    Dr. Schoenfield served as associate professor of medicine and consultant in gastroenterology on the faculty of the Mayo Clinic for seven years. He became a professor of medicine in residence at UCLA from 1972 to 1999 (now emeritus). He was the director of gastroenterology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for 25 years, where he received the chief resident's teaching award, the president's award, and the pioneer of medicine award.

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What is the future for PBC?

The goal of ongoing and future research in PBC is to better understand the processes (mechanisms) that initiate and perpetuate the inflammation that destroys first the small caliber bile ducts and later the hepatocytes. Logically, a more complete understanding of these mechanisms will reveal new strategies for therapy, designed to block specific crucial steps in the progression of disease.

PBC is such a slowly progressive disease that it is often initially diagnosed after the development of cirrhosis. Future therapies will probably include strategies that differ for patients with early disease compared to those with advanced disease. Presumably, patients with early phases of PBC would benefit more from therapies that block immunologic mechanisms of bile duct destruction than would patients whose bile ducts have already been destroyed. Conversely, patients whose bile ducts have already been destroyed may benefit more from therapies that prevent the formation of scar tissue and the toxic consequences of cholestasis.

The key to success is support of both basic science and clinical research in PBC, which have not been adequately funded in the past. Several promising research strategies are being pursued to reveal the mechanisms involved in developing PBC. For example, studies are in progress to evaluate the genetic (hereditary) characteristics of patients with PBC who have close relatives with the disease. By studying all of these patients with PBC and comparing them with other family members without PBC, it may be possible to better understand the predispositions to this disease. In addition, a large-scale study is underway in the United States that will compare PBC patients with healthy people of the same age and gender. The points of comparison will include their life experiences, habits, diet, medical and surgical histories, childbearing history, and exposures to environmental toxins and medications. This study likewise should provide important clues regarding predispositions to PBC.

Studies also are in progress to see if PBC may be initiated (triggered) by an infection with either bacteria or viruses. For example, studies are ongoing to confirm or disprove the notion that proteins of infectious organisms stimulate AMA autoantibodies (and the autoantibodies just happen to react to antigens present in the mitochondria). Other studies are dissecting the mechanisms involved in the lymphocyte migration toward small bile ducts and the lymphocyte killing of bile duct epithelial cells. These studies involve not only patients with PBC, but also several animal models in which T-lymphocytes destroy small bile ducts in an identical manner to that seen in PBC. These studies ultimately should identify new ways to treat PBC by, for example, blocking the killing of bile ducts by T-lymphocytes.

Finally, the issue of scar tissue formation in PBC and other diseases associated with cholestasis is now being researched in the hope of finding a way to prevent the development of cirrhosis. If cirrhosis can be prevented, even if ongoing inflammation of the liver continues, many patients might not develop the complications of portal venous hypertension and the progression to liver failure.

Medically reviewed by a Board Certified Family Practice Physician


"Overview of the treatment of primary biliary cirrhosis"

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/25/2015

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