New Perspectives on How a Killer Works

Blocking protein CD24 may be key to treating liver cancer

(RxWiki News) Scientists are beginnning to understand why liver cancer is so aggressive. Hong Kong researchers may have uncovered a mechanism that can effectively treat this nearly always fatal disease.

Liver cancer has stem cells that are virtually impossible to kill with chemotherapy, surgically remove or stop from spreading to other parts of the body. These super cells have a protein called CD24 that could be targeted and blocked with drugs, a process that could lead to better treatment, possibly even a cure.

"Research may have uncovered ways to effectively treat liver cancer."

Irene Ng, pathology professor and director of the State Key Laboratory for Liver Research at the University of Hong Kong says CD24 is like a button. Once turned on, it activates another protein in the cell called STAT3.

She says that STAT3 penetrates the cells and starts to form tumors, spread and resist drugs. The reason behind this chain reaction isn't fully understood. However, it's believed that targeting STAT3 with drugs can keep the cancerous stem cells from doing their damage.

Studying both animal and human liver cancer cells, the team found that CD24 counts predicted the future course of the disease. Patients who had a high CD24 count had a 67 percent chance of recurrence within the first year after surgery and an 80 percent chance of the cancer spreading to other parts of the body, compared to a 21 percent chance of recurrence and 32 percent chance of spreading in patients with lower CD24 counts.

Developing drugs that inhibit or block CD24 and STAT3 may lead to more effective treatment for this dreaded form of cancer.

This study was published in the journal Cell: Stem Cell.

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Review Date: 
July 7, 2011