Tracking down liver cancer earlier: New research project
Published on Monday, 03 February 2014
Throughout the world, liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma or HCC) with some 750,000 new reported cases per year is the fifth most common malignant tumour. In Europe as well, the frequency is increasing with men developing this disease two to three times more often than women.
Hepatocellular carcinoma frequently arises following a chronic inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis B and C virus infections significantly enhance the risk of liver cell carcinoma. Diet-related factors can also lead to inflammation of the liver, frequently caused by obesity, excessive alcohol consumption or type 2 diabetes mellitus, which may results in cirrhosis of the liver tissue.
Since liver cancer is largely asymptomatic, the tumour is often only detected in the advanced stages when chances of cure are small. It would therefore be important to screen persons with a history of risk factors by close-meshed examination and to have tests at hand that can detect any eventual cancer development as early as possible.
People and means
Scientists at the Life Sciences Research Unit (LSRU) of the University of Luxembourg in association with a clinically oriented group - Centre hospitalier universitaire de la Sarre - at the Saarland University Hospital Centre in Homburg (Saarland) have now started a research project dealing with this early detection of liver cell carcinoma. This cross-border project is supported by a generous grant of €840,000 from the Fonds National de la Recherche (FNR) Luxembourg together with the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG).
Focusing on the role of so-called microRNAs
The researchers will focus on the role of so-called microRNAs in liver cancer. Such microRNAs are special types of small ribonucleic acids (RNA), which are involved in regulating almost all fundamental processes in human cells. An entire team of researchers led by Professor Iris Behrmann and Dr Stephanie Kreis from the Signal Transduction Laboratory at the LSRU is now investigating the microRNAs in the liver whose quantities are influenced by inflammatory mediators.
The scientists will analyse to what extent the levels of microRNAs can be influenced by inflammatory processes and vice versa, how microRNAs regulate inflammation themselves. Through the cooperation with Professor Frank Lammert and Professor Matthias Glanemann at the Saarland University Hospital Centre in Homburg they can now also examine samples taken from liver cancer patients. "We want to find out which microRNAs are formed here and to what extent this is accompanied by an inflammation in the tissue," Professor Behrmann explains. "Since these microRNAs can also be traced in the blood, our long-term objective is to gain a "molecular fingerprint" on the basis of microRNAs in the blood and in that way hopefully recognise liver cancer at an early stage."
About the Life Sciences Research Unit at the University of Luxembourg
Research at the University’s Life Sciences Research Unit (LSRU, http://bio.uni.lu) seeks fundamental understanding of human disease to help us detect, prevent and treat illness. Combining molecular, cellular and computational approaches the LSRU looks deeply into how cells communicate, differentiate, migrate, renew themselves and function.
Central to this is gaining knowledge of the signals cells receive from their environment. Many high-impact diseases are caused by abnormal cell communication and behaviour, including cancer and inflammatory diseases.
The LSRU was established in 2008 at the University of Luxembourg’s Faculty of Science, Technology and Communication. It has now a headcount of 65 and organizes its work into six complementary laboratories: Calcium Signalling and Inflammation, Signal Transduction, Cytoskeleton and Cell Plasticity, Neuroinflammation, Molecular Disease Mechanisms, Systems biology.