When prevention fails: Understanding how mutated proteins make liver cancer more likely
Dr Fulvio Chiacchiera and his team are studying why liver tumours are more likely to develop when a protein called BAP1 is mutated. Uncovering this process will help to identify better ways to diagnose and treat patients.
Hope for the future
Liver tumours are one of the most common causes of death in Europe. In the UK, around 5,600 people die from liver cancer every year. For advanced liver cancer patients, their only hopes for a cure are surgery or a liver transplant. Sadly, many patients cannot find a suitable liver donor, and approaches using medication need to be improved.
Livers have a special ability to regrow, and Dr Fulvio Chiacchiera and his team are hoping to take advantage of this. They want to understand how a specific type of molecule helps to prevent tumours forming when the liver regenerates and, on the other hand, how tumours form when this molecule doesn’t work properly. This could be helpful when diagnosing patients and could uncover new ways to target liver cancer.
Meet the scientist
“I decided to become a biologist when I was six years old. Everything fascinated me. I was driven by curiosity, I wanted to explore the beauty of nature. Growing up I realized that the most stimulating challenge was to try to understand the complexity behind cell plasticity, investigating how tissues are formed and regenerated and why cancer developed when these processes are corrupted.”
Liver cancer is a relatively common type of cancer with no good options for cures once it reaches an advanced stage. Cancer research has helped to find new ways to manage liver cancer and alcohol-related liver diseases, however we still don’t know enough about the causes of these conditions. Learning more about how liver cancer first starts will help reveal new weaknesses that we can exploit with treatments.
BAP1 is a tumour-suppressing protein found in many places in the body. Mutated versions of BAP1 have been shown to contribute to tumour formation in many types of tissue, including the liver. However, the liver is ‘special’ as it can regenerate, and we don’t yet understand what role BAP1 plays in this specific circumstance to keep the liver healthy.
The researchers plan to combine several techniques in the lab to gather a clear picture of what happens when liver cells ‘lose’ BAP1. This could help to identify ways to diagnose liver cancer patients more precisely in future, which would help people receive better treatments for their own individual circumstances. It could also be possible to target stages of the process BAP1 is involved in, as a new way to treat liver cancer.
Basic research is the root from which all applied, practical, applications grow and sprout. It results in the knowledge and understanding of nature and its laws, representing one of the most important investment that can be doneDr Fulvio Chiacchiera
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