Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in Asia: A story of growth


  • Vincent Wai-Sun Wong

    Corresponding author
    1. Institute of Digestive Disease, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
    • Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
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  • The Emerging Leadership Lectures are educational activities sponsored by the JGH Foundation.
  • Statement of interests: I have served as a speaker with Novartis Pharmaceuticals, Roche Pharmaceuticals and Abbott Diagnostics, and am on the advisory boards of Gilead and Otsuka.


Professor Vincent Wai-Sun Wong, Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 9/F, Prince of Wales Hospital, 30-32 Ngan Shing Street, Shatin, Hong Kong. Email:


Ten years ago, few if any researchers in Asia showed interest in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Today, NAFLD is increasingly recognized as a major chronic liver disease not only in Western countries but also in Asia. Its importance is exemplified by its high prevalence, disease progression, and association with major medical disorders. In Asia, 15–30% of the general adult population suffers from NAFLD. In patients with diabetes and metabolic syndrome, the reported prevalence is typically over 50%. Patients with the active form of NAFLD, namely steatohepatitis (NASH), may have fibrosis progression and eventually develop cirrhosis. Patients with NASH-related cirrhosis have similar mortality to those with other causes of cirrhosis, and they have a high risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma up to 2–3% per year. In addition, NAFLD patients have a high prevalence of cardiovascular disease and colorectal neoplasm. One major challenge for practicing clinicians is how to identify patients with significant liver disease among many who are found to have NAFLD. While liver biopsy is traditionally considered the gold standard for disease staging, it is invasive and unpleasant, and is an impractical tool for a disease that affects a quarter of the general population. To this end, new developments in transient elastography and biomarkers such as cytokeratin-18 fragments can help exclude significant liver fibrosis and NASH, respectively. This article summarizes a young researcher's journey through this exciting area of research and what he has learned from amazing people all around the world.