Close up of researcher working with samples in a lab

Research projects

Uncovering the connection between liver disease and liver cancer

Professor Giannino Del Sal
Project period
May 2024 - Apr 2027
Research Institute
International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology
Cancer types
Liver cancer
Award amount

Project aim

Professor Giannino Del Sal and his team in Italy are working to understand why some people with a common liver disease go on to develop liver cancer, and how to stop it.

Hope for the future

It is estimated that 1 in 5 people in the UK have a condition called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Unfortunately, people with a very severe form of this disease can sometimes develop liver cancer. But researchers don’t really know why this is.

Professor Giannino Del Sal and his team suspect it could in part be something to do with the increased physical pressure that is placed on liver cells during NAFLD. So now, he is teaming up with Dr. Giovanni Sorrentino and using Curestarter funding to explore this in more detail. Together they hope to make important new findings that could ultimately lead to new ways of preventing and treating liver cancer.

lab experiment

Meet the scientist

Giannino loves tennis,  and he really enjoy listening to Baroque music, especially Bach. He likes detective novels and cooking on Sundays. One of his favourite dishes is spaghetti with clams and bottarga.

The science

NAFLD is caused by a build-up of excess fat molecules in the liver. Research suggests that this accumulation of fat molecules can actually push the inside of the cell out of shape. An important part of the cell called the nucleus is particularly affected, but nobody fully knows how this impacts the health of the cell.

Professor Giannino Del Sal and his team have identified a protein, called Pin1, which seems to be involved in helping liver cells bear this increased pressure. Now they want to find out exactly how pressure changes and Pin1 might be involved in liver cancer development. The team will use various innovative techniques to test their ideas, including a tiny 3D cell model of the liver, called ‘organoids’.

By understanding exactly how liver cells respond to physical stress and how this is linked to development of liver cancer, the researchers will be uncovering vital information which could reveal new treatment approaches for people with NAFLD and liver cancer.

Headshot of Gionnino Del Sal with white background Professor Giannino Del Sal
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