Protein inhibits growth of liver tumours

Liver cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer, with around 700,000 people dying from it each year. This type of cancer – hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) – is extremely hard to treat and the underlying mechanisms are still not known. Now researchers at Utrecht University (Faculty of Veterinary Medicine) have discovered a protein that inhibits the growth of liver tumours in mice. This is a first, but important, step towards developing a new therapy strategy for patients with liver cancer. The research has been published in the scientific journal Hepatology.

Cancer is a disease characterised by unrestrained cell growth. This cell growth is usually controlled by proteins able to inhibit the growth and by other proteins able to promote the growth, rather like the brake pedal and accelerator pedal in a car. The problem with cancer is that the balance between these two pedals becomes disrupted, allowing cells to multiply quickly and in an uncontrolled way.  

Inhibiting the growth of liver tumours

In the course of a lab-based study with genetically modified (transgene) mice, Eva Moreno and Bart Westendorp, members of Prof. Alain de Bruin’s cancer research team, discovered an important brake pedal: the protein E2F7. If this protein is ‘switched on’ it inhibits the growth of liver tumours in mice. Further research is needed to establish if this also works for other forms of cancer. But the study is a first, important, step towards developing a new treatment for patients with liver cancer, stresses De Bruin. ‘Our research shows that E2F7 can inhibit the cell division of liver tumours and that normal liver cells are not affected by the activation of E2F7. This might lead to a promising future treatment: developing a medicine that increases the activity of E2F7, or blocks the breakdown of this protein, in patients with liver cancer. But we’re not there yet, there’s still a long way to go.’