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  • Gene Therapy Research Suggests New Approach to Treat Liver Cancer

    In recent research from UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, scientists discovered that inducing the body to produce a molecule called microRNA-22 (miR-22) could successfully treat hepatocellular carcinoma in mice, a prevalent form of liver cancer.

    Remarkably, miR-22 not only reduced inflammation in the liver but also led to improved survival rates in comparison to the standard FDA-approved liver cancer treatment, lenvatinib, without any noted toxicity. The study is now available for review in the journal Molecular Therapy.

    Yu-Jui Yvonne Wan, who spearheaded the study, emphasized the potential of miR-22 gene therapy for hepatocellular carcinoma treatment. She highlighted the therapy's potential advantages, including enhanced anti-tumor immunity and metabolism improvement. Wan's discovery concerning miR-22's application for hepatic and metabolic diseases has led the University of California to file a patent, which is still under review.

    MicroRNAs, like miR-22, are tiny molecules comprising ribonucleic acid (RNA). These molecules stand out as they don't produce proteins. Specifically, miR-22 acts by inhibiting the production of certain proteins that can intensify liver cancer growth. Decreased levels of miR-22 are observed in hepatocellular carcinoma tumors, and the presence of this molecule can often indicate a patient's survival duration.

    Wan's earlier studies spotlighted the connection between gut microbes and liver, known as the gut-liver axis. She found that certain metabolites from the gut microbiome, such as retinoic acid and bile acids, can induce the production of miR-22, exhibiting anti-cancer properties. However, these signaling metabolites see a decline in patients with liver or colon cancer, subsequently leading to a drop in miR-22 levels. This observation prompted Wan to explore the possibility of enhancing miR-22 levels as a therapeutic measure for liver cancer.

    To examine the effectiveness of miR-22 for liver cancer, Wan and her team, including first author Ying Hu, employed gene therapy. Utilizing an inactivated adenovirus, they introduced miR-22 into mice. The subsequent results were compared between mice undergoing different treatments. Among the discoveries was that both miR-22 and lenvatinib treatments delayed liver cancer progression. Yet, miR-22 showed a clear edge in terms of survival rates without any toxicity.

    Liver cancer stands as a significant global health concern, with over 700,000 fatalities recorded each year. Current treatments available for hepatocellular carcinoma, like lenvatinib and sorafenib, can result in notable toxic effects and are accompanied by high expenses. Hu, reflecting on the study's outcomes, emphasized the potential of miR-22 as a viable alternative for treating hepatocellular carcinoma.

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