Researchers at Duke University in North Carolina have discovered a potential new treatment pathway for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) that uses the body’s natural enzymes to help prevent and stop the disease in its tracks, Fierce Biotech reports.

The new technique involves balancing two chemicals that work against each other to control fat metabolism. Researchers manipulated this pathway in the hope that they could reduce the deposition of fat in the liver, one of the primary causes of both NAFLD and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).

According to recent findings in rat models, the method appears to help lower the amount of fat deposited in the liver, while improving glucose regulation in obese subjects. They’re hopeful that the treatment may one day be used to help prevent and treat fatty liver disease as well as prediabetes in humans.

According to the report, the key to the discovery lies in branched-chain amino acid (BCAA), which is produced when protein is metabolized. The new methodology works by controlling two enzymes that control how BCAA is broken down in the body — one enzyme inhibited its breakdown and the other activated it. Scientists have long known about the links between BCAA, obesity and insulin resistance but never really understood how those links worked.

The Duke team plans to experiment further with BCAA to see how it can be targeted in people with fatty liver disease and prediabetes. The observations are also prompting scientists to consider new strategies for treating metabolic disorders and the role of amino acids in our overall health.