BOSTON, Nov. 11, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- First-degree relatives of people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease cirrhosis have a 12 times higher risk of developing the disease when compared to those with no family history, according to research presented this week at The Liver Meeting® - held by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) mimics the symptoms of alcoholic liver disease, but it is not caused by alcohol consumption, but rather the build up of fat in the liver usually in the setting of obesity and metabolic syndrome. NAFLD is becoming increasingly prevalent in the U.S., and many researchers are looking at complications of - and genetic predisposition - to the disease. "I started studying genetics of NAFLD in twins, and we found, to my surprise, that not only NAFLD, but also hepatic fibrosis, was a heritable trait ( Loomba et al. Gastroenterology, 2015)," explains Rohit Loomba, MD, MHSc; director of the NAFLD Research Center at University of California, San Diego, and lead investigator in the study. "We then decided to embark on studying patients with NAFLD cirrhosis and their first-degree relatives for the presence of advanced fibrosis." Dr. Loomba's team recently recruited 26 patients with NAFLD cirrhosis and 39 of their first-degree relatives (i.e., parent, sibling or child) and compared them with 69 pairs of first-degree relatives without the disease (representing the general population) to determine if there is a higher likelihood of developing cirrhosis if a first-degree relative already has it. They used advanced MRI methods to accurately quantify liver fat by MRI-PDFF (proton-density-fat-fraction) and hepatic fibrosis by MRE (elastography) in all cases and controls. This is the first prospective study of its kind with detailed MRI-based assessment of liver disease.