Researcher Teams with Hospital on Clinical Trials for Management of Liver Disease

Posted: November 2, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Lori Jennings

Lynn Gerber

Naomi Lynn Hurwitz Gerber, researcher in the College of Health and Human Services (CHHS), has partnered with colleagues at nearby Inova Fairfax Hospital to better understand the physical and psychological effects of liver disease.

The team hopes their findings will eventually help to improve both the general quality of life and activity level of those suffering.

The research, currently under way, consists of three independent joint clinical trials with Inova Fairfax Hospital designed to lessen the impact of the disease on patients suffering from various forms of liver disease – from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease to hepatitis C.

“We have a physician from Inova partnering with Dr. Gerber, who is a specialist in rehabilitation medicine and a clinical scientist,” says Shirley Travis, dean of CHHS. “We have a team working on disease diagnosis and management as well as preventing physical decline and restoring any functional loss due to the disease.

“This is truly a comprehensive approach to patient management that will have applications to other diseases and chronic health conditions.”

Gerber’s work focuses on better understanding how people function when they have various forms of liver disease. Her research will investigate both the origin of commonly-seen symptoms such as fatigue and decline in physical function, as well as the root causes (such as sleeplessness, weakness and depression) to improve patients’ quality of life.

“In short, this research will help us better understand the symptoms by studying the performance and physiology of liver disease patients,” said Gerber. “For example, if we have two patients with the same diagnosis, they may have two different levels of functional activity. This may be due to a variety of things, including their overall health, their prior level of physical activity and even their motivational level. We’re really doing a scientific investigation to evaluate physical function and assess what contributes to or is a barrier to people doing well.”

Gerber hopes the team’s research will eventually result in the creation of an assessment tool that can be administered quickly and reliably in a doctor’s office. The assessment will help screen liver disease patients so physicians can identify functional level and treatment options that may be effective in preventing disability or restoring functional ability. These treatments are likely to be aimed at controlling pain and insomnia, treating weakness and increasing physical stamina, among other goals.

Gerber adds, “We hope that by understanding the abnormalities of function, we can better treat the whole patient. We’re seeking to give people with liver disease the basic building blocks, where they are able to do what they want to do in terms of physical performance and consequently feel satisfied with their level of activity and their lives.”

Gerber previously served as chief of the Rehabilitation Medicine Department at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center. She is board certified in internal medicine, rheumatology, physical medicine and rehabilitation. Gerber’s clinical expertise includes rehabilitation of patients with rheumatic diseases and cancer, management of children with musculoskeletal syndromes and foot and ankle management.

The author or coauthor of more than 100 publications, Gerber received her BA from Smith College and her MD from Tufts University Medical School. She trained in internal medicine at the New England Medical Center, Boston; in rheumatology in the Arthritis and Rheumatism Branch, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, NIH; and in physical medicine and rehabilitation at George Washington University.

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