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Studying liver disease in children

Cathrine Korsholm, 26, is studying medicine at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH). She is one of five Danish medical students who will be sent to the USA to follow the Lundbeck Foundation’s 2020 DARE (Danish American Research Exchange) Fellowship programme.

Cathrine Korsholm will be researching and studying at UCSF in California, one of the finest universities in the US.

Cathrine’s research focuses on an exceedingly rare, yet extremely serious, liver disease, which can affect infants and newborns: biliary atresia.

In Denmark, only five to ten children are diagnosed with the disease each year, and it is typically detected some weeks postpartum when the child develops jaundice.

Cathrine Korsholm explains that the cause of biliary atresia is unknown:

‘With biliary atresia, the bile ducts become blocked. The body becomes less able to absorb fats, causing a large build-up of waste products in the liver. The liver can’t dispose of these waste products, resulting in liver damage. The damage is so great that 85% of all children who suffer from the disease require a liver transplant before they reach the age of 20, and biliary atresia is the most frequent cause of liver transplants in children worldwide.’

At UCSF, Cathrine Korsholm will be conducting her research under the supervision of paediatric surgeon Amar Nijagal who researches into liver disease and performs surgery on children who have developed biliary atresia.

‘I’ll be seeking to identify whether there may be factors at the foetal stage which could contribute to development of the disease,’ says Cathrine Korsholm.

Her study is based on, among other things, numerous tests on a pig model. The trials were conducted at the Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, University of Copenhagen, where researchers infected foetuses in the wombs of sows to see if they could induce the inflammatory state. 

‘One of my two supervisors, Professor Thomas Thymann from the Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences has given me access to the data from these trials and I’ve started analysing them. But there’s a lot of work to do before the analyses are finished – and only time will tell whether they will indicate any link between infections at the foetal stage and biliary atresia,’ says Cathrine Korsholm.

Her other Danish mentor on the project is Dr Vibeke Brix Christensen from the Department of Paediatrics at Rigshospitalet, University of Copenhagen.

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