Peter F. Whitington, MD, is an internationally recognized pediatric hepatologist interested in studying liver diseases of children, specifically biliary atresia, genetic cholestasis, obesity-associated fatty liver disease, and neonatal hemochromatosis. He is the director of Organ Transplantation and the Siragusa Transplantation Center. His current research projects include the following:
Childhood Liver Disease Research Network (ChiLDReN)
Dr. Whitington is the site principal investigator for this multi-site prospective study titled Childhood Liver Disease Research Network (ChiLDReN), which investigates various cholestatic liver diseases affecting children. Cholestatic liver disease is a major interest of Dr. Whitington’s and has been for three decades. The major goals of this project are to conduct longitudinal multi-centered studies of eight causes of neonatal cholestatic liver disease including biliary atresia, neonatal hepatitis, Alagille syndrome, alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, bile acid synthesis defects, progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis, mitochondrial hepatopathies and cystic fibrosis liver disease.
Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) and Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH) Clinical Research Network
Dr. Whitington’s career has been devoted to improved care for children with liver disease. Fatty liver disease (NAFLD/NASH) is by far the most prevalent condition affecting the liver of U.S. children and is likely to be a prominent cause of end-stage liver disease in these same individuals as they mature. The objectives of this study are to continue to investigate the etiology, pathogenesis, natural history, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and to provide a resource for clinical trials and ancillary studies of the pathogenesis, natural history, diagnosis or diagnostic biomarker development and treatment of NAFLD, NASH, or NASH-related cirrhosis.
The study of fatty liver disease has been a focus of Dr. Whitington’s laboratory and clinical research over the past several years. NAFLD is a complex medical condition that several important determinants – genetic, social, societal, and others – that make it a distinctly human disease, not to be easily emulated in laboratory animals. It must be studied in humans: thus, the NASH CRN represents a unique opportunity for the medical research community to make substantial advances in the understanding of pediatric NAFLD, to improve its treatment, and to improve the outcomes of affected children. Our research group at Lurie Children’s has contributed significantly to the success of the pediatric protocols of the NASH CRN.
The Pathophysiology of Childhood Liver Diseases
In addition, Dr. Whitington heads a lab that studies the pathophysiology of childhood liver diseases. The lab is involved in translational research utilizing animal and cell-based models and molecular approaches to understand the immune mechanisms involved in the pathogenesis of neonatal hemochromatosis and biliary atresia. In addition, they are also interested in hepatocyte “survival” cell signaling involved in nutrient sensing and fatty liver disease and in the protective response to cholestasis.