In an important finding, the genetic cause for formation of gallstones among Indians was discovered. A gene mutation in the liver was resulting in the disease, which affects six per cent of the country’s population.

The discovery was made by scientists and leading gastroenterologists from the Asian Institute of Gastroenterology (AIG) here in a study which was published in the latest edition of the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. It was found that mutation in the gene ABCG8 in the liver led to excess production of cholesterol into bile, resulting in formation of gallstones.

Briefing journalists on the results of the study, AIG’s Chairman and one of the authors of the paper, D. Nageshwar Reddy said gallstone disease was a fairly big burden in the Indian population. This was the first time that a genetic cause was established in the Indian population, he added.

Dr. Reddy said while the incidence of gallstone disease was six per cent in the normal population, it was 10 per cent in women and three per cent in men. It could be as high as 20 per cent in the elderly people. Gallstones not only cause problems like dyspepsia, indigestion and abdominal pain but could lead to more serious conditions like obstructive jaundice, pancreatitis and even gall bladder cancer. The treatment of gallstones involved surgical or endoscopic removal, costing Rs. 30,000 for the procedure. The incidence of this type of cancer was high among people living along the Ganges and the AIG was taking up a study to look into its cause.

He said the finding would help in reducing treatment costs and screening people at high risk for the disease. Such people could be advised to undertake lifestyle changes like reduced intake of sugar, increased fibre and exercise.