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Researchers Seek Culprit in Liver Inflammation

August 06, 2019

Lisa Zhang, PhD
Lisa Zhang, PhD

A team of researchers at The University of Kansas Cancer Center have been awarded a five-year, $1.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study chronic inflammation of the liver, a major factor in the development of liver cancer.

Cases of liver cancer have more than tripled since 1980, and it is the second leading cause of cancer-related death worldwide. Its cause comes almost exclusively from chronic inflammation, which may arise from chronic viral hepatitis, alcoholic liver disease and non-alcoholic liver disease.

Lisa Zhang, PhD, is the principal investigator (PI) leading the research effort.

“Currently, the five-year survival rate for liver cancer is poor, less than 12 percent. This is largely due to the characteristics of the tumor and the late stage in which its typically diagnosed,” she said. “The current standard of treatment increases survival by just a few months.”

It is because of these low survival rates that Dr. Zhang and her team are studying an RNA-binding protein, HuR, which may contribute to liver inflammation and cancer growth. Abnormal activation of HuR has been linked to the development of many types of cancers. However, little is known about its connection to liver cancer.

“Our previous studies have revealed that a nuclear receptor, called SHP, is highly expressed in a normal liver and acts as a tumor suppressor in liver cancer. We also found when SHP is suppressed, HuR activates and causes the liver to inflame,” Dr. Zhang said. “The goal of this pre-clinical project is to study the regulation and role of HuR in liver inflammation and cancer development, and further test HuR-targeted intervention for liver cancer prevention and treatment.”

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