Dr Mark Wright is a Hepatology Consultant at University Hospital Southampton (UHS) and holder of a Research Leaders Programme (RLP) award.
His research interests focus on conditions affecting the liver and the implications of liver disease.
Helping patients benefit from research
Mark first joined UHS in 2006. This followed four years of research during his medical training, including a PhD. He has done research into conditions such as Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B, alcoholic hepatitis and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). This included coordinating a national multi-centre clinical trial and Health Technology Assessment review.
His research focuses on speeding up the process of turning research discoveries into better care for his patients. This includes investigating how end-of-life care could be improved for his patients.
“The UK does loads of great science, but often it doesn’t get applied,” he explains. “You can have all these fantastic journal papers sitting on your shelf, but if patients don’t benefit from it then it’s a bit pointless.”
Throughout his time at UHS, he has continued to publish papers and run trials, but he now aims to use his RLP award to take his research further.
He has recruited a research fellow to help him in this aim, who will not only assist with running clinical trials, but will also look into the biology underpinning conditions related to the liver.
This includes continuing Mark’s research into the bacteria within ascites (an abnormal build-up of fluid in the abdomen caused by cirrhosis).
Developing treatments for liver disease
Mark’s current research mainly focuses on NAFLD. This causes a build-up of fat in the liver, and is usually seen in people who are overweight or obese.
According to the British Liver Trust, 63% of UK adults are now obese and overweight. It is estimated that one in three of these people have early-stage NAFLD, often without realising it.
The early stages of the disease have no symptoms and are usually not harmful. However, if it gets worse it can lead to serious liver damage, including cirrhosis.
Until recently, the only treatment for these patients has been to offer advise on how to lose weight, eat healthily, and do more exercise. However, this approach doesn’t always work.
“Unfortunately, a lot of my patients face quite a bit of prejudice, and in the past we’ve tried to treat it by offering lifestyle advice,” he explains.
“But it’s actually very hard to change habits, and once you’ve got a problem with alcohol or your weight, it’s very hard to reverse it just because a doctor or nurse tells you to.”
He plans to use his RLP award to work with companies to run commercial trials of a range of promising new drugs, which he says could give people the ‘helping hand’ they need to lose weight.
These include drugs which reduce people’s appetite, meaning they no longer crave food and quickly feel full once they start eating. They have been shown to be effective at helping people with type 2 diabetes lose weight, and could also lower people’s risk of heart attack, stroke and NAFLD.
“I think these studies are going to have a huge impact,” Mark says.