Breakthrough in Liver Cancer

Researchers at the University of Basel, led by Prof. Michael N. Hall, have made a monumental discovery that could spell good news for sufferers of liver cancer.

Liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is considered to be the fastest growing cause of cancer related deaths in the US. This form of cancer is generally diagnosed late, after the liver has been significantly damaged. At this stage, prognosis is usually poor.

How Cancer Grows

Cancerous tumors develop from mutated cells that grow and spread uncontrollably. Anti-cancer proteins, or tumor suppressors, generally suppress unlimited cell growth. In cancerous cells, these proteins don’t work properly, and the cancer is able to grow unhindered.

The Findings

The researchers, looking for hiding tumor suppressors, generated a model of hepatocellular carcinoma. After analyzing more than 4000 proteins by comparing them in both healthy and tumor tissue, one protein stood out: histidine phosphatase LHPP. The first author of this study, Sravanth Hindupur, wrote,”it is striking that LHPP is present in healthy tissue and completely absent in tumor tissue.”

The researchers found that by reintroducing the genetic information for LHPP, the formation of tumors was prevented and liver function remained at an optimal level. The researchers also believe that LHPP could potentially be used as a biomarker for liver cancer. This could help diagnose cancer sooner and treat it more effectively.

Another finding was that the severity of the cancer correlates with LHPP levels. Life expectancy in people with no LHPP at all was two years shorter than those with measurable LHPP.

How it Works

LHPP is an enzyme that removes phosphates from histidine, an amino acid found in proteins. When LHPP is absent, more phosphate attaches to cells. This triggers the uncontrollable cell growth we find in tumors.

The discovery of LHPP may help cure liver cancer once and for all.