A £1million research centre dedicated to tackling liver disease has opened at St Mary's Hospital, in Praed Street, Paddington.
The Robert Hesketh hepatology clinical facility at St Mary's Hospital will be staffed by 50 researchers, doctors and nurses.
The centre is next to the liver and antiviral unit at the hospital, and is made up of four outpatient rooms and four beds.
All patients will be offered the chance to take part in the unit's clinical research programmes and some will be able to enrol in its clinical trials.
Liver disease is the fifth-largest cause of death in Britain and the centre will tackle the four main trig-gers - alcohol, fatty liver disease and chronic hepatitis B and C, as well as liver cell cancer and bile duct cancer.
Researchers will take blood, liver and DNA samples from patients to develop ways of predicting which patients will develop the severe complications of liver disease.
They will also examine why some people are genetically predisposed to alcoholism, a condition responsible for 70 per cent of chronic liver disease.
Director of the new facility Howard Thomas, who is a clinic professor and consultant hepatologist, said: "Liver disease is rapidly increasing, particularly in the young and middle aged. Tragically, patients can live with liver problems for several decades with no symptoms, not knowing that they are unwell until they reach the end stages of cirrhosis and liver cancer.
"It's even more tragic when one knows that at these early stages, the problem could have been stopped either by advice on lifestyle or curative antiviral therapies.
"We need to focus our research, clinical facilities and most importantly the NHS on the importance of screening patients for the early stages of liver disease, when interventions can return the liver to normal."
The new facility is named after the late Robert Hesketh, who helped to raise funding for the unit along with Lord and Lady Alexander Hesketh, Lord and Lady Normanby, Abdalla Saleh and many other benefactors.
It is part of the UK's first Academic Health Science Centre, a partnership between Imperial College London and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.