November 8, 2014

Presented: Sunday, November 9, 2014, 4:00 pm Eastern - Hynes Convention Center, Boston, MA

BOSTON, Nov. 8, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Autoimmune hepatitis is a chronic liver disease that is found more frequently in women than men. Researchers at Indiana University studied the environmental exposures possibly related to autoimmune hepatitis and reported their findings at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases. "Interestingly, autoimmune hepatitis is quite far behind other autoimmune liver diseases in terms of environmental risk assessment," said Craig Lammert, MD, principal investigator on the study.

In addition to assessing the environmental exposures, the research team used social media and Amazon Mechanical Turk to conduct two independent surveys. "Social media in clinical research is an evolving field. We have only just started to tap into the diverse application of this platform and clinical studies," said Dr. Lammert, "It will grow, and, I suspect, it will change some of the ways we conduct future studies."

Seven autoimmune hepatitis social media groups -- referred to in the study as cases -- were identified. Amazon Mechanical Turk is a crowdsourcing website used to connect work requesters with a freelance workforce, and this system was used to identify healthy participants for the control group.

Using this system, 430 dietary (152 cases from the social media groups/278 controls from Amazon Mechanical Turk) and 390 tobacco surveys (164 cases from the social media groups/ 226 controls from Amazon Mechanical Turk) were completed over one month and returned for statistical analysis.

There was no difference in coffee consumption, other aspects of diet, or smoking with the exception that those in the control group were more likely to be current smokers. However, a significantly lower number of cases reported breast feeding as infants than those in the control group -- 49 percent compared with 65 percent. According to Dr. Lammert, "This is the first time we have seen this inverse association with breast feeding and autoimmune hepatitis. We became interested in this idea, as there have been similar associations reported in the literature for other autoimmune diseases -- but none associated with the liver."

The study demonstrates two distinctly different facts -- the feasibility of using social media for conducting such research and the relationship between breastfeeding and autoimmune hepatitis. "Social media is an amazing tool, our group has and will continue to utilize it to study autoimmune hepatitis," said Dr. Lammert, "but we have learned that these studies must be completed carefully. A limitation is the challenge of patient-reported disease and data; however, we believe with structured and listed inclusion and exclusion criteria, we can adequately conduct epidemiologic research in this manner."

Dr. Lammert concluded by saying, "There have not been sizeable or high-quality studies examining the environmental exposure risks in autoimmune hepatitis. We plan to conduct follow-up studies to attempt to replicate this finding but also dissect the mechanism for the observed effect."

Abstract title:
A preliminary study utilizing social media and crowdsourcing shows an inverse relationship between breast feeding as an infant and the presence of autoimmune hepatitis

AASLD is the leading medical organization for advancing the science and practice of hepatology. Founded by physicians in 1950, AASLD's vision is to prevent and cure liver diseases. This year's Liver Meeting®, held in Boston, November 7-11, will bring together more than 9,000 researchers from 55 countries.

A pressroom will be available from November 7 at the annual meeting. For copies of abstracts and press releases, or to arrange researcher interviews, contact Gregory Bologna at 703-299-9766.

Press releases and all abstracts are available online at www.aasld.org.

Media Contact: Gregory Bologna
703-299-9766
gbologna@aasld.org
Press Room: November 7 – 11, 2014
Hynes Convention Center, Boston, MA
Telephone: 617-954-2977

Researcher: Craig Lammert, MD
Email: clammert@iu.edu
Phone: 317-201-5740

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SOURCE American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases

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