Health Protection Research Unit for Chemical & Radiation Threats & Hazards

Primary Biliary Cholangitis

Chemical Exposures and the Development of Primary Biliary Cholangitis


An estimated 20,000 people in the UK suffer from primary biliary cholangitis (PBC). This research theme will look at chemical exposures and developing patient centred treatment strategies.

Primary biliary cholangitis (PBC) is an autoimmune disease of the liver. It leads to progressive damage to the intrahepatic bile ducts, cholestasis and eventual liver fibrosis. An autoimmune component is well described. However, since the disease is common in specific geographic areas, including the north of England, this suggests an environmental component. There is evidence of certain chemicals causing PBC development.

Aims of the research theme

This research theme will:

  • use isolated human liver cholangiocytes and other liver cell types (eg hepatocytes) to screen for specific chemicals which can cause cholangiocyte cell death and determine the mode of action of these chemicals
  • use an extensive patient cohort and compare this to the UK Reference Range Cohort from the north of England to identify chemical exposures in PBC patients
  • use spatial mapping to determine if disease clustering for PBC occurs in the UK-PBC sample and if this indicates chemical exposures
  • identify biomarkers of effect using patient and in vitro approaches

This approach will provide us with information on chemical exposures and permit the development of patient centred treatment strategies. This can be translated into health protection for those individuals who may be at risk of exposure.

This theme will provide an example of investigating chemical exposures in a specific disorder. The methodologies can then be applied to other conditions.

Theme leader: Professor Matthew Wright

Graphic showing liver anatomy


Recent projects in the Chemical Exposures and the Development of Primary Biliary Cirrhocis.