AsianScientist (Jun. 17, 2013) – Singapore researchers have discovered a gene that can be used in the diagnosis and treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common form of liver cancer.
A study led by Professor Daniel Tenen, Director of the Cancer Science Institute of Singapore at NUS, has found that SALL4 – a potent stem cell gene and an emerging cancer-causing gene (oncogene) – can be used as a prognostic marker as well as a therapeutic target for HCC. The scientists also proposed an approach that inactivates the gene to kill HCC cells and prevent tumor formation.
The findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine this month. Two patent applications have been filed on the research.
According to the Singapore Cancer Registry, liver cancer is the third most common cancer among males and fifth most common cancer among females in the country. The current diagnosis of HCC includes ultrasound, liver biopsy, computerised tomography, magnetic resonance imaging as well as blood tests to detect the presence of alpha-fetoprotein, a cancer marker. In terms of treatment, surgical resection is the most viable treatment option for liver cancer, said Tenen. However, this is only possible for early-stage liver tumors.
The team analyzed 171 and 228 patient samples from Singapore and Hong Kong respectively. PhD candidate Ms. Yong Kol Jia, also from CSI Singapore, said that liver cancer patients have high levels of SALL4 in their liver. Patients who expressed high levels of SALL4 tended to do worse compared to those who do not express the gene.
With the knowledge of SALL4’s role, HCC cells can be identified earlier and eradicated to halt progression to cancer, she said.
“What urgently needs to be addressed is the development of more effective targeted therapies, and this is where our research comes in,” Tenen said.
The article can be found at: Yong KJ et al. (2013) Oncofetal Gene SALL4 in Aggressive Hepatocellular Carcinoma.
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