Research finds possible liver cancer genes

In collaboration with the Press Association

New research in the US has identified two genes likely to play a role in liver cancer and in doing so, has highlighted an efficient and adaptable method of looking for new ways of beating cancer.

The technique involved genetically modifying liver stem cells to contain the faulty genes thought to initiate cancer growth, and then implanting them into mice.

Some of these ?precancerous? stem cells then developed into liver tumours. By looking for additional faults in the DNA of these cells, the scientists were able to home in on new cancer genes.

Comparing the faulty regions of DNA in the mouse liver tumours with the DNA taken from human liver cancer, the team - led by Scott Lowe of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory - found one particular stretch of DNA was common to both.

Further analysis zoomed in on two genes, known as cIAP1 and YAP, that were damaged in both the mouse and human liver cancers.

Under normal circumstances, cIAP1 helps to regulate the nature?s natural suicide pathway, which is often disrupted in cancer cells, while YAP is able to turn other genes on and off. Both of these genes seemed to be overactive in liver cancers.

"There has been a long search for animal models that could be predictive of the genes involved in human cancers," commented Arnold Levine of The Institute for Advanced Studies, who was not directly involved in the research.

"These researchers have taken a large step forward in this search and are on a clear path to proving that well-designed animal models can precisely reflect the events observed in human cancers."

The study was conducted at the Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory in the US, and is reported in the journal Cell.