Partnering to Understand and Prevent Liver Disease
By Kimberly Carlisle with Madeleine Kahn
Profound gifts often grow from the special relationship between physicians and their patients. One extraordinary example is the Ibrahim El-Hefni Liver Biorepository (IELBC), a thriving Northern California enterprise with global impact.
A biorepository is a bank of healthy and diseased blood and tissue samples researchers use to better understand the body’s response to infection. The tissue samples also enable development of treatments and vaccines. The ability to collect and store such samples in a systematic fashion is vastly improving the efficiency and discovery of research. The highly diverse populations of patients at Sutter Health affiliates throughout Northern California and Nevada make the sample collections at CPMC’s multiple biorepositories the envy of researchers around the country as discoveries can be validated across a wide variety of demographic variables, including ethnicity. Samples are obtained with consent from patients or family members of patients with liver disease and healthy volunteers. To volunteer to give tissue or blood samples, call 415–600–1723 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arising from the shared origins and passions of a physician and the transplant patient he helped care for, the IELBC at CPMC is one of only a few dedicated liver biorepositories in the United States. The facility serves
as a hub for collaborative research, especially on viral hepatitis, by providing physicians and scientists with human tissue and blood samples to research the mechanisms of liver disease. Named for its chief benefactor, the biorepository is guided by its research director and Hepatology Division Chief, Stewart Cooper, M.D., and Adil Ed Wakil, M.D., associate chief of Hepatology and Ibrahim’s former physician.
“It takes long-term vision and sustained support to allow a bio bank to return its investment in the form of effective research that ultimately prevents or cures a disease,” says Wakil. “The El-Hefni family’s commitment to fund science education and technology training for underserved populations, combined with Ibrahim’s personal mission to help those who suffered from the same disease he did, has made our accomplishments possible and set the stage for future discovery.”
Though Ibrahim died in 2005, his legacy is now carried forward by his wife Wensley and daughter Suzanne Wright through the Ibrahim El-Hefni Technical Training Foundation. We recently had the opportunity to speak with Suzanne.
Editor: What inspires you to continue your father’s legacy here?
Suzanne: My father had a very clear vision and two priorities: first, to improve the health of those diagnosed with a disease that caused so much suffering for him and, second, to elevate the quality of science education for children around the world. My mother and I share his belief that these are two very important goals and an extremely good use of the foundation’s funds.
Editor: What do you hope this collaboration will ultimately accomplish?
Suzanne: To find a cure and/or a vaccination to prevent hepatitis C so that millions of people do not suffer from this disease. Also, to encourage collaboration between doctors and scientists around the world and in particular between the United States, the country my father adopted and loved, and his home country of Egypt, which has the highest incidence of hepatitis C and liver disease in the world.
Editor: What do you find most valuable about your work with Dr. Wakil and Dr. Cooper?
Suzanne: For any philanthropist, the main concern is that every penny will be used to further the goal of the grant. We know we can trust Drs. Wakil and Cooper to ensure that every dollar is put to maximum use toward our mutual goal. Second, we know they are among the brightest research and clinical doctors in the world. We know this firsthand about Dr. Wakil as he personally treated my father during and after his liver transplant. They are incredible human beings with an absolute passion for their patients and for the mission of eradicating hepatitis C.
Banking on a Vaccine for Hepatitis C
At the Ibrahim El-Hefni Liver Biorepository, scientists have access to 50,000 samples to conduct research on hepatitis C in the hope of developing a worldwide vaccine. Studies based on these samples have also been conducted at the Kalmanovitz Liver Immunology Laboratory at CPMC, the Liver Center at UCSF, Drexel University, and the University of Paris.
“Hepatitis B or C can damage your liver, leading to cirrhosis or liver cancer,” says Stewart Cooper, M.D., research director of the El-Hefni Liver Biorepository and Kalmanovitz Liver Immunology Laboratory. “We have screening tools, vaccines and treatments for hepatitis B, but for hepatitis C we can only screen; we don’t yet have a vaccine, so that’s where we are focusing our research.”
For more information about hepatitis screenings, please visit cpmc.org/liver.