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An Oxfordshire man who took part in fatty liver disease research after the condition was discovered through his role in an Ebola vaccine trial has urged others to participate in NHS research.

Medicine in a bottle 3 Shutterstock

Ian Miles, 59 and previously a blood donor for over 25 years, learnt he had the condition after he put himself forward as a healthy volunteer for a University of Oxford Ebola vaccine trial.

As a result, he then agreed to take part in a trial for treatment of a type of non-alcoholic liver disease (NAFLD), which resulted in him losing two stone in weight.

Researchers suggested the Abingdon resident be tested for liver disease as a result of a routine blood sample given during the Ebola trial screening at Oxford’s Churchill Hospital.

An ultrasound and MRI scan through routine NHS care confirmed the disease.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) encompasses a range of conditions caused by a build-up of fat in the liver.

It's usually seen in people who are overweight or obese and could affect up to 30% of the population, often without any obvious symptoms.

It is rapidly becoming the leading cause of liver failure worldwide and is closely linked to death from cardiovascular disease. Despite this, there are currently no licenced treatments for NAFLD.

Mr Miles said he was “quite surprised” to be diagnosed with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a type of NAFLD, in which the liver is inflamed.

As a result of his diagnosis, he agreed to take part in a University trial into NASH which is looking at the usefulness of the weight loss drug Liraglutide to treat the condition.

Previous research found that Liraglutide, which is widely used to treat other conditions such as diabetes, may also be useful in reducing liver inflammation in people with NASH.

Researchers now want to discover whether this reduction in inflammation can be explained by weight loss alone or whether other, unknown, beneficial factors resulting from Liraglutide are involved.

To do this, the study compares the effects of Liraglutide in treating NASH compared to only weight loss through lifestyle changes including diet and activity.

Participants either take the drug or commit to losing weight through conventional lifestyle interventions.

Mr Miles, as the first programme entrant, was randomly allocated to the latter course.

As a result, mainly achieved through dietary changes, the freelance tutor and musician has dropped from 15 stone to 13 stone, through support from a weight loss programme, paid for as part of the trial, at Didcot Civic Hall. This saw him named Slimmer of the Week and Slimmer of the Month.

In barely three months his Body Mass Index (BMI) had dropped by four points, his waistline by as many inches, and his three-month scan confirmed that his liver fat had been greatly reduced.

He said: “Had you told me six months ago that I would be going to a slimming class, then I would have laughed — but it was a no-brainer.

“It’s entailed a managed, but feasible and hardly punitive diet. In essence you can still eat and drink many things, while others you need to be more wary of.

“One might regard nuts as modest and healthy, for instance; but since they’re stuffed with rich oils and nutrients to do their original botanical job – to all intents those are off the list, alas. And our breadmaker is sadly gathering dust.

“You’re allowed protein, most fruits and vegetables, fair quantities of roughage and minimal dairy produce for balance.

“Occasional or modest helpings of other things remain OK provided one keeps aware: such as my half-pint of local keg ale still, more evenings than not. But fat, and carbs, off the menu does indeed seem to translate into fat off the midriff.”

He urged others to consider taking part in research, through asking their doctor about research or viewing trials seeking volunteers at The UK Clinical Trials Gateway at www.ukctg.nihr.ac.uk.

Participating in health research helps develop new treatments, improve the NHS and save lives.

Mr Miles, who hopes to lose a further half-a-stone, said: “Apart from the weight of course, you really have nothing to lose.

“It’s a way of contributing more or less anonymously to something for the public benefit, while potentially gaining some individual benefit out of it as well.”

The trial, called the Lifestyle and Liraglutide in NASH (LiLi) study, began in January and recruitment is expected to close early next year.

RDM's Dr Ahmad Moolla, the clinical research investigator co-ordinating the study, said: “Clinical research is vitally important so that we are able to investigate and assess the potential of new treatments for conditions where, for example, existing treatment options are few or have a limited effect.

“Without the kind support and willingness of participants to take part in clinical research studies such as our LiLi study, the task of tackling conditions such as fatty liver disease, which poses a considerable burden to both patients and to the NHS, would be even more challenging.”

The study is supported by the NIHR Clinical Research Network Thames Valley and South Midlands (CRN) as well as the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre, both of which have assisted the researchers at the University to set up and run the clinical study.

For information about fatty liver disease, the LiLi study, and other diabetes research at the University of Oxford, please contact cru@ocdem.ox.ac.uk or telephone