Our highlights from the European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL) Congress 2023

Contributing authors: Taro Langner, Specialist in AI Research and Innovations @ Antaros Medical, Nicolas Geades, Director MR Imaging @ Antaros Medical, and Bogdan Mitran, Director PET Imaging @ Antaros Medical & Research Fellow @ Antaros Tracer

Last week, over 6125 delegates attended the European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL) Congress in Vienna, Austria. Over 4 days (June 21-24), there were many sessions, presentations and orals full of interesting scientific research and advances in clinical care.

Of course, Antaros Medical was there, with a poster presentation of data looking at changes in lean vs. adipose tissue loss in short- and long-term weight loss in patients with obesity following bariatric surgery.

In this post we will be discussing our 3 chosen highlights from the congress and why we found them of particular interest.

Please note that following the reveal of the new “Fatty” liver disease nomenclature at EASL, we will be utilising the newly designated terms in addition to the existing terms in this post. For more details about the changes and the process, you can find the full publication here.

Highlight 1: Artificial intelligence in hepatology: Science fiction or science fact?

The Young Investigators (YI) Symposium, given by Jakob Nikolas Kather, Julien Calderaro, and Tom Lüdde, examined the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning technology in a clinical trial setting.

Advances in deep learning technologies (such as ChatGTP-4 and Open AI, for example) have recently generated widespread interest, and have also led to speculation about the impact such technology might have within the medical field. This was a very well attended session at the congress, indicative of the growing interest in this topic and the timeliness of discussions such as these.

There seems to be a consensus that this technology is unlikely to replace human expertise, but rather will support their work e.g., through integration into imaging software, automation of repetitive tasks, and/or providing objective clinical decision support.

The feeling we got from this session and the discussions throughout was that there is some lingering uncertainty regarding whether the use of AI and deep learning is possible or practical within a clinical trial setting. This was somewhat surprising for us, as at Antaros Medical we are already implementing technology like this in various ways and can very clearly see the benefits it can bring to clinical research. We are excited to see the ways the field develops in the coming years, and how beliefs about deep learning may change.

Highlight 2: Portal hypertension in NAFLD

An interactive session moderated by William Alazawi and Thomas Reiberger, presented case studies on portal hypertension and discussed potential diagnoses and treatment courses with a panel that included Sasana G. Rodrigues, Sven Francque, and Virginia Hernandez-Gea.

There is currently quite a lot of interest in looking at the relationship between steatotic liver disease (SLD; previously called fatty liver disease) and the spleen, and the ways in which this relationship might provide opportunities to detect early signs of liver disease. Thus, the focus on discussing portal hypertension (PH) is understandable.

The current ‘gold standard’ for measuring portal hypertension is via hepatic venous pressure gradient (HVPG), however, this technique is not without its limitations. It is complex, operator dependent, and invasive for patients. Furthermore, as was discussed during this session, its performance is better in cases of late-stage fibrosis vs. in early-stage, and has been shown to work better in healthy controls compared with metabolic dysfunction-associated steatohepatitis (MASH, previously called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH) patients.

What we found most interesting about this session was that it made clear the need for effective, non-invasive biomarkers of portal hypertension that can be used in clinical trials. There was brief mention of ultrasound elastography and the potential for stiffness measurements, but no reference to portal vein flow at all. You can read more about how we are using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to assess pathophysiological features that represent the dynamic and static nature of portal hypertension in addition to liver fibrosis and cirrhosis here.

Highlight 3: Non-invasive imaging method demonstrates anti-fibrotic efficacy

Abstract #FRI-335, titled Non-invasive imaging method demonstrates anti-fibrotic efficacy of a dual integrin alpha-v/beta-6 and alpha-v/beta-1 inhibitor in a rat model of biliary fibrosis was presented by Johanna Schaub as part of the Immune-mediated and cholestatic: Experimental and pathophysiology poster tour.

The data presented was from a preclinical study that focused on evaluating treatment response to antifibrotic therapies using non-invasive Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imaging of alpha-v/beta-6 (αvβ6) and molecular MRI of collagen in a rat model of biliary fibrosis.

Current methods to assess and measure fibrosis are either invasive or not sensitive enough to detect early fibrosis, and this is greatly affecting drug development. There is an unmet need for non-invasive methods to detect, stage, and study the molecular processes that drive the pathology of fibrosis and will enable the assessment of treatment effects. PET tracers are emerging as important biomarkers due to their ability to detect even small changes at a molecular level.

This abstract and the data it presented were very encouraging and help provide support for using PET as a non-invasive method to evaluate responses in liver fibrosis. The use of non-invasive methods like PET and MRI to image fibrosis is something that we are actively working on at Antaros Medical, and so we found it very interesting to see how others in the field are approaching this. In fact, data on our PDGFRβ PET tracer was presented at last year’s EASL congress.

In summary

In summary, while there were many sessions, presentations and orals full of interesting research at this year’s EASL Congress, we described here 3 of our personal highlights:

  • Artificial intelligence in hepatology: Science fiction or science fact, Jakob Nikolas Kather, Julien Calderaro and Tom Lüdde
  • Portal hypertension in NAFLD, William Alazawi, Thomas Reiberger, Susana G. Rodrigues, Sven Francque and Virginia Hernandez-Gea
  • Non-invasive imaging method demonstrates anti-fibrotic efficacy, Johanna Schaub

We are already looking forward to attending EASL Congress 2024 next year in Milan, Italy.

Blog disclaimer
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the contributing author/s. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Antaros Medical.

Contact details
If you have any questions regarding this article, please reach out to press@antarosmedical.com

Share on Linkedin Share on Twitter