Dr. Jihane Benhammou receives grant from Veterans Affairs Research

Dr. Jihane Benhammou
Dr. Jihane Benhammou. Image credit: Paul Kennedy, UCLA Health.

Dr. Jihane Benhammou, assistant professor of medicine and digestive diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and a physician-scientist in the UCLA Health Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, was awarded a $1.5 million grant from the Veterans Affairs Office of Research and Development to study how statins can be used as chemoprevention for hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common form of primary liver cancer.

Statins are being investigated in clinical trials to determine their benefits in preventing hepatocellular carcinoma and progression of liver disease, but how they work is not well understood. The five-year grant will allow Benhammou and her team to further investigate the potential of statins by using a new approach that involves growing miniature versions of organs ­— called organoids — from patient samples.

Benhammou’s laboratory, which conducts research at UCLA Health and Veterans Affairs Greater Los Angeles Health Systems, will use the organoids to gain a deeper insight into how statins affect the development of liver cancer. They will also study how the organoids interact with cancer-causing pathways in the body to see if statins can be used to stop or slow down the growth of the disease.

“We are hoping this work will give us a better understanding of which patients would benefit most from statins for cancer prevention,” Benhammou said. “This is an especially important topic to study for veterans, since likelihood of this population developing hepatocellular carcinoma is five time higher compared to the broader U.S. population.”