Hepatology has developed from a merely contemplative science to a discipline offering the patients several therapeutic possibilities. One of the most feared complications of portal hypertension, bleeding oesophageal varices, can now be controlled with effective vaso-active drugs and endoscopic therapy; in case of failure TIPS placement is possible. Several promising drugs have been developed for the treatment of chronic hepatitis B, and after discovery of the virus in 1989, also for chronic hepatitis C. Liver transplantation is now a well accepted treatment option for selected patients with end-stage liver disease. New challenges lie ahead, such as the recognition of NASH (non-alcoholic steato-hepatitis) as a major source of up to now cryptogenic chronic liver disease. The growing number of published papers in the field of Hepatology, and the founding of new Journals with peer review in Hepatology and with high impact factor, reflect this evolution. It is obvious that physicians taking care of patients with liver diseases should be familiar with endoscopic techniques and have thorough knowledge of virology and immunology.
During the annual EASL meeting in Palma de Mallorca in September 1991, a few Belgian hepatologists met after the evening dinner and raised the project to found a national association devoted to the study of liver diseases (see picture). Before giving life to this ambitious project, they decided to create an informal and friendly group gathering regularly at each other’s home for discussing interesting medical cases and also for pursuing fructuous exchanges about the project. Here was one of the main roots of the future BASL.On the other hand, in Belgium, a research group ‘Liver’, supported by the National Fund of Scientific Research in Medicine, was organising a half-day scientific meeting for many years. This meeting was later-on incorporated in the ‘Belgian Week of Gastroenterology’. From 1995 on this research group was, however, no longer supported by the Government due to reorganisation. It was decided to continue the research group and to enlarge its scope towards clinical hepatology. The driving force behind these ideas was the late Marc Hautekeete.
Furthermore, the European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL) called upon national societies to become a bridge to the European level. The Belgian Association for the Study of the Liver (BASL) was created officially as a scientific society in March 2000 with the publication of its statutes.
Two annual meetings are organised. During the Belgian Week of Gastroenterology, a ‘Spring Meeting’ is held, during which basic and clinical research is presented. Abstracts are selected anonymously by the BASL Steering Committee. In December, a clinical ‘Winter Meeting’ is held. During the morning session, selected clinical – mostly controversial – topics are discussed with invited experts and a panel. In the afternoon selected clinical cases are presented, for which participation is asked from all interested gastroenterologists. The BASL also coordinates clinical studies and registries. A yearly Newsletter is distributed to the members, containing practical information on future conferences of the BASL and other related associations in Belgium and abroad, as well as summaries of major international congresses. The BASL also has an Associated Editor of Acta Gastroenterologica Belgica. His task is to manage papers submitted for publication in the field of hepatology, and to coordinate the publication of proceedings of the BASL meetings.