The research of Alina M. Allen, M.D., focuses on improving outcomes in patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which affects about 1 in every 4 adults in the United States. Associated with excess weight in patients, NAFLD is the most common cause of chronic liver disease in industrialized countries due to the unrelenting challenge of obesity. It is a silent disease, often undetected until later stages when it becomes irreversible.
Dr. Alina and her colleagues are working to develop easily accessible methods for screening and predicting disease trajectory in patients with NAFLD. Early identification of this disease could improve outcomes and prevent complications such as cirrhosis, liver cancer, the need for transplantation, and death.
- Noninvasive imaging biomarker development. Dr. Allen uses magnetic resonance elastography (MRE) to detect liver inflammation associated with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and circumvent the invasiveness of a liver biopsy. NASH is the aggressive form of fatty liver, which leads to progression to cirrhosis and end-stage liver disease if not diagnosed and treated. She leads the clinical trial that has established this novel methodology as an accurate biomarker for NASH diagnosis and for longitudinal follow-up of NASH resolution after weight loss.
- Individualized prediction of future development of cirrhosis and complications using MRE. State-of-the-art imaging technologies used in Dr. Allen's research have demonstrated that liver stiffness can be used to predict the risk of these events in subsequent years and to determine the optimal longitudinal follow-up plan for monitoring disease progression.
- Population-based research using large data sets. Important contributions can be derived from using data sets to help disentangle the epidemiologic associations between NAFLD, cirrhosis, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and cancer risk. These diseases are the most important causes of death in this population.
- Use of artificial intelligence methods to develop models. Using predictors from longitudinal health care data collected in routine clinical practice can help diagnose NAFLD and predict future risk of liver events, such as cirrhosis and related complications.
- Clinical trials. Dr. Allen is studying the use of novel therapies for treatment of NAFLD and fibrosis.
Significance to patient care
NAFLD is a silent disease without symptoms or evident blood biomarkers until cirrhosis and complications are in late stages and largely irreversible. Currently, there are no methods for screening and stratifying risk in the population. NAFLD outcomes would be improved with early diagnosis and timely management because the disease is reversible at early stages.
Dr. Allen's NAFLD research covers several critical gaps. These include early identification in the affected population, noninvasive diagnosis of the aggressive form of the disease and predictive modeling to identify patients at risk of liver-related events. The multimodal algorithms and biomarkers inherent in NAFLD screening and clinical phenotyping serve as scalable and unbiased clinical decision-making tools. These enable personalized intervention, thereby fulfilling a critical unmet need in the health care burden of NAFLD.
Positions and scientific appointments
- Associate editor (NAFLD), Hepatology, 2021-present
- Member, NASH Committee, Chronic Liver Disease Foundation (CLDF), 2021-present
- Director, NAFLD clinic, Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, 2020-present
- Member, Annual Meeting Education Committee, American Association for the Study of Liver Disease (AASLD), 2020-present
- Editorial Board member, Hepatology, 2019-2021
- Member, Journal Publications Committee, American Association for the Study of Liver Disease (AASLD), 2019-2021
- National Institutes of Health National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) Study Section, early career reviewer in the Hepatobiliary Pathophysiology (HBPP), and Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Study Section for Digestive, Kidney and Urological Systems (DKUS) Integrated Review Group, 2020
- Chair, Digestive Disease Week (DDW) abstract reviews NAFLD clinical research, American Gastroenterology Association, 2018-2020
- Member, Membership and Mentorship Committee, AASLD, 2013-2016
- Member, Training Committee, American College of Gastroenterology (ACG), 2013-2015
- Future Leaders in NAFLD, awarded at the NASH-TAG Conference, Park City, Utah, 2020
- Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluations (GRADE) Methodology Trainee Award, American Gastroenterology Association, 2018
- American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) and AASLD Academic Skills Workshop Award, 2016
- AASLD Presidential Poster Award, Annual Liver Meeting, Boston, 2016
- Vanguard Award for best manuscript, International Liver Transplantation Society, 2015
- Young Investigator Award, Controversies in Transplantation conference, Breckenridge, Colo., 2015
- Young Investigator Award, Controversies in Transplantation conference, Breckenridge, Colo., 2014
- Fellows Symposium Travel Grant, American Society of Transplantation, 2013
- ACG/AstraZeneca Fellow Award, 2012
- Presidential Poster Award, ACG, 2012
- Merit scholarship, Grigore T. Popa University of Medicine and Pharmacy, Iasi, Romania, 1998-2005