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Striving for a cancer-free future

Determining how liver cancer develops in obesity

Lead researcher

Prof Tony Tiganis, Prof Catriona McLean

Monash University

Tumour type:

Years funded

What is the project?

Obesity promotes the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which includes a broad spectrum of liver conditions ranging from non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFL) to the more severe non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a condition that can result in cirrhosis and/or hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). The molecular basis for the progression from NAFL to NASH progression and thereon HCC in obesity remain unclear.

The identification of individuals that have progressed to NASH and are prone to HCC remains a major challenge, and limits early intervention.

Our project will focus on addressing the roles of signaling pathways in the development of HCC and how to prevent and treat it. Our studies will provide significant insight into fundamental processes driving the development of HCC in obesity and may ultimately afford novel opportunities for early diagnosis and therapeutic intervention.

What is the need?

The CDC in the US reported in 2017 that in the last 10 years 40% of cancers could be attributed to the obesity epidemic. The obesity epidemic stands to overtake smoking as the leading cause of cancer.

The obesity epidemic accounts for 30-40% of the increase in HCC. Primary liver cancer is one of the world’s deadliest cancers and is the fifth most common cancer worldwide. Obesity associated NASH is expected to soon surpass hepatitis C as the principal cause for HCC in the developed world.

Standard chemotherapy responses for HCC are poor, in most cases having no impact on overall survival rates. Thus there is an urgent need for the development of targeted therapeutics.

What are you trying to achieve?

Our goal is to determine if we can take advantage of existing FDA-approved drugs targeting JAK protein tyrosine kinases or drugs targeting STAT 1/3 in clinical development to prevent or treat HCC in obesity. My vision in the next five years is to develop targeted therapies for obesity-associated liver cancer.

Funding Body

Cancer Council Victoria Research Grant