Research into mitochondria and ALD gets $2.7 million boost

July 28, 2023
Zhi Zhong and John Lemasters

Alcohol consumption can cause liver disease. But science is still searching for the actual mechanism that causes it. Zhi Zhong, professor of drug discovery and biomedical science, might have an answer.

Zhong and John Lemasters, GlaxoSmithKline Distinguished Endowed Chair and professor of drug discovery and biomedical science, were recently awarded a new grant to advance research on alcoholic liver disease and mitochondria. The five-year, $2.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is a competitive renewal grant, allowing Zhong to continue research first funded in 2018.

The grant, titled “Mitochondrial depolarization, mitophagy, and mitochondrial DAMPs in ALD,” starts August 1, 2023, with total cost of $2,694,890.

Alcohol-associated liver disease (ALD) with its associated fibrosis/cirrhosis is the major cause of liver-related mortality. The project investigates how ethanol ingestion produces hepatic mitochondrial depolarization (mtDepo) leading to mitochondrial autophagy (mitophagy), release of mitochondrial damage-associated molecular patterns (mtDAMPs) like mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), and profibrotic responses by collagen fiber-producing hepatic stellate cells.

Success of this project will allow development of new mechanism-based therapeutics to treat and prevent ALD, which would have major implications on a growing health crisis. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths from ALD increased 23 percent from 2019-2020.

“Dr. Zhong’s research into this important health problem shows great potential,” said Philip D. Hall, dean of the MUSC College of Pharmacy. “To have its significance underscored and supported by the NIH confirms what her students and colleagues have long recognized – she is a tremendous scientist.”