Dr. Daniel Leung, medical director of the Viral Hepatitis Clinic at Texas Children’s, has devoted much of his research to improving the outcomes of children with cystic fibrosis and cystic fibrosis-associated liver diseases.
Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a life-threatening illness that causes the body to produce thick, sticky mucus that blocks the airways in the lungs, digestive tract and other parts of the body, including the liver.
“CF is caused by a mutation in the CFTR gene that affects the liver’s bile composition,” said Leung. “When thick bile cannot flow from the liver to the small intestine to digest fats, the buildup of bile rapidly scars the liver leading to cirrhosis, which may require a liver transplant.”
To accelerate CF research and patient care at Texas Children’s, Leung received a $100,000 Developing Innovative Gastroenterology Specialty Training (DIGEST) grant last spring from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. This 3-year grant is awarded to physicians across the country who demonstrate promise in changing the field of gastrointestinal (GI) care and research for CF patients.
“We’re paired up with nationally recognized physician mentors throughout the country,” said Leung. “The intent is to enhance CF care and research emerging in each of the institutions where there’s an awardee.”
Through the DIGEST grant, Leung will be working closely with interim CF Center Director Dr. Fadel Ruiz and Pulmonary Division Chief Peter Hiatt to incorporate more pediatric gastroenterology into a multidisciplinary CF clinic for Texas Children’s most challenging patients, as well as develop CF and gastroenterology learning programs and lectures for future trainees and faculty.
Leung, who fosters a special interest in nutritional deficiencies and liver disease in children with CF, is active in on-going multi-center studies funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, respectively
For the last four years, Leung has served as co-lead principal investgator of the CFF-funded Baby Observational and Nutrition Study (BONUS) that examines how diet and nutritional supplements impact growth in CF patients during the first year of life. Specimen samples – stool, urine, DNA and serum – are collected to identify potential markers that may interfere with an infant’s growth.
Leung also serves as site PI for the NIH’s Cystic Fibrosis Liver Disease Network study called PUSH which is an observational study that tests whether certain abdominal ultrasound patterns determine CF patients’ risk for developing cirrhosis.
“Up to 10 percent of children with cystic fibrosis will develop biliary cirrhosis by the first decade of life prompting the need for a liver transplant,” said Leung. “Through our research, we want to improve these odds to help CF children at Texas Children’s and around the world get off to a healthy start.”
Leung and his research colleagues are working on the first manuscripts for both studies and hope to publish their findings this spring.