UCLA researchers receive $2.97 million grant to develop test for early detection of liver cancer
Researchers from the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center were awarded a $2.97 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to develop a nanotechnology-enabled cancer diagnostic solution that will help detect early stage liver cancer for people who are at risk of developing the disease. This is the second grant of a similar scale awarded to this joint research team in 2020.
The team, which is led by Hsian-Rong “HR” Tseng, professor of molecular and medical pharmacology, and Dr. Vatche Agopian, director of Dumont-UCLA Liver Cancer Center; will be devoted to developing a nanotechnology-enabled diagnostic platform. This platform will allow for more effective purification of extracellular vesicles in blood from people with hepatocellular carcinoma — the most common form of liver cancer. The purified liver cancer extracellular vesicles can then be subjected to molecular characterization, enabling the non-invasive detection of early stage liver cancer from at-risk patients with liver cirrhosis.
“Tumor-derived extracellular vesicles, which are often regarded as biomarker reservoirs, are important to trace because they are present in circulation at relatively early stages of disease and persist across all disease stages,” said Tseng, who is the lead principal investigator on the grant. “But, they can sometimes be difficult to extract since a majority of extracellular vesicle in circulation are not of tumor origin, and high background noise makes the total extracellular vesicles analysis of limited diagnostic precision. Our development will help us overcome this challenge.”
The nanotechnology-enabled diagnostic technology, also called EV Click Chips, represents a rapid and effective extracellular vesicles purification system. It uses a multimarker cocktail to recognize, enrich and recover extracellular vesicles secreted from the hepatocellular carcinoma tumor. This is followed by detecting molecular contents in the purified extracellular vesicles. Such a streamlined workflow can be regarded as a liquid biopsy diagnostic approach, capable of noninvasive detection of early stage hepatocellular carcinoma, which are frequently not detected by conventional screening ultrasonography.
“The entire goal is to detect liver cancers at a stage when they can be treated and cured,” said Agopian, who is also associate professor of surgery, liver and pancreas transplantation in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “Unfortunately, the majority of patients are diagnosed with late stage liver cancer where the tumor is locally advanced or has spread to other parts of the body, making it very difficult to treat. We’re hoping this technology will help improve outcomes for our patients with this deadly malignancy.”
Each year there are more than 42,000 new cases of liver cancer diagnosed in the United States, which has more than tripled since 1980. The American Cancer Society estimates that 30,000 people die from the disease every year. The death rate has continued to increase for the past two decades.
Other investigators of the grant include Dr. Sungyong You from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.