30 September 2020

Anti-cancer marker

Skoltech has opened a new biomarker for the diagnosis of liver cancer

Skoltech blog, Naked Science

A group of scientists from Skoltech led by Professor of Skoltech and MSU Olga Dontsova has discovered a new non-coding RNA specific to the liver. Scientists traced the relationship with the amount of this RNA in a healthy liver and in carcinogenesis and proposed using it as a biomarker, creating a new panel for postoperative diagnosis of various types of liver cancer. Up to this point, there was not a single high-quality diagnostic marker for liver cancer, which is put mainly by ultrasound or CT.

The results of the study are published in the Journal of Cancer Research and Clinical Oncology. The work was carried out with the support of an RNF grant.

Oncomarkers are substances by which doctors can determine the presence of cancer in a person. Any substances can be used as cancer markers, the concentration of which is significantly different in a sick and healthy person.

The role of cancer markers can be non–coding RNA - RNA molecules that do not encode proteins, but play an important role in the processes of regulating the vital activity of cells. Non-coding RNAs are divided into universal, present in all cells of the body, and tissue-specific, found only in certain organs and tissues.

A group of scientists from Skoltech found a previously undescribed non-coding RNA in the liver that can be used as a biomarker. The new molecule was called HELIS (HEalthy LIver Specific), because unlike the classic cancer markers indicating the presence of the disease, it serves as a marker of a healthy liver, it can even be called an anti-cancer marker.

According to the first author of the article, Olga Burenina, a researcher at the Skoltech Center for Life Sciences, this feature can be interpreted as an advantage: "Many classic cancer markers do not always manifest themselves in cancer, or their number may increase due to other diseases, in the case of the liver due to cirrhosis or hepatitis. Markers of a "healthy liver" can be more informative, because if something "broke" in cancer cells, for example, the production of HELIS is disrupted, then it will not be repaired so easily."

In cooperation with the Research Institute of Carcinogenesis of the N. N. Blokhin Russian Cancer Research Center of the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation and The Russian Scientific Center of Surgery named after Academician B.V. Petrovsky, who provided scientists with postoperative samples of six types of liver tumors, managed to show that in all tumor samples the level of HELIS decreased compared to the norm, and in some types of cancer up to complete disappearance.

Next, the scientists looked at the behavior of already known non-coding RNAs in these samples and selected three more potential cancer markers. The result was a panel of four biomarkers that vary differently in different types of cancer, including those able to distinguish between benign and malignant tumors.

"At the moment there is not a single good diagnostic marker for liver cancer, the diagnosis is made mainly by ultrasound or CT and the entire tumor is cut out, regardless of which one is suspected. A biopsy is most often not taken. Therefore, the real diagnosis is made based on the results of histology, which is expected for 10-14 days," says Olga Burenina. The new panel can be used for rapid primary diagnosis of postoperative preparations of liver tumors, as well as for additional analysis of doubtful clinical cases. 

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