Although the liver may be the underestimated “silent partner” of the human body — as Dr. James Boyer, director of the Yale Liver Research Center, calls it — at the end of the day it needs as much love as the next vital organ.
Last night marked the inaugural event of “That Makes Me Sick,” a student organization operating through a series of health-related talks. Geared toward educating undergraduates on practical health issues through an entertaining and interactive forum, founders Nate Puksta ’07 and Diane Hannemann GRD ’06 started off with an in-depth look at the human liver. The presentation, held in Sudler Hall, began with an introduction from Boyer, followed by slide-show presentations by three physicians from the Yale School of Medicine.
While Puksta and Hannemann said they were pleased with the event and its turnout of about 50 people, they were surprised to see that the majority of the audience was not their target population — undergraduate students. Among the graduate students and faculty members, there were also some residents of the greater New Haven area.
“It never hurts to know more,” said Katherine Martushova GRD ’08, who had liver disease as a child.
Dr. Anna Longacre, a clinical fellow at the School of Medicine, spoke first on the alcohol-related complications associated with the liver, a topic which Puksta said was particularly pertinent to a student population in which alcohol consumption is a major issue.
“The biggest problem that people have is that they underestimate the impact of binge drinking,” Longacre said.
Not only does the liver, the main metabolizing agent within the body, process medications and alcohol in the same pathway, but it can also have problems handling the increased fat content introduced through binge drinking. In such cases, a normal liver may contract fatty liver disease, which can develop into cirrohsis — the eighth most common cause of death in the United States, Longacre said. FLD is reversible in its early stages 90 percent of the time, Longacre said. The only way to prevent and treat it, she said, is through abstaining from alcohol consumption.
Dr. Joseph Lim, a faculty member at YSM, followed with a presentation on the non-alcoholic factors contributing to fatty liver disease. He said that weight loss, medical therapy and surgical therapy are the most prevalent methods of controlling weight, and subsequently, controlling liver disease.
Obesity, which Lim said is an increasing problem in the United States, accounts for the more than 30 million Americans that suffer from the disorder.
In the final presentation, Dr. Renuka Umashanker, an assistant professor of medicine, concluded the academic portion with an in-depth look at Viral Hepatitis, from A to G. But some members of the audience thought the talk was too elevated for the nature of the forum.
“We’re only on ‘B,’ and she wants to go to ‘G,’ ” sad Becky Levy ’06, a psychology major who plans to attend medical school.
After the information was delivered, James Perlotto, chief of student medicine at Yale University Health Services, offered more focused insight on the resources available to Yale students, highlighting a little-known story about a case of Hepatitis A that occurred on the Yale football team earlier in the season.
He said that students may receive free vaccines for Hepatitis A and B at Student Medicine.
“Students can always come in and talk to anyone in Student Medicine about the risks and problems they have,” he said.
In future presentations, Hannemann said, the organization will explore different media of expression, such as art, and emphasize a research component that would more effectively engage students.