Protein discovered by scientists in Singapore could form basis for new types of liver cancer treatment

·Editorial Team
The inhibition of Agrin also led to a reduction in tumour size and progression.
Researchers found that the protein Agrin “plays a vital role in the development and spread of cancer cells to secondary organ sites such as the lungs”. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — Scientists in Singapore have discovered a protein that could be a “novel target” for developing therapies that inhibit the growth and spread of liver cancer tumours.

The protein, called Agrin, was identified by scientists from the Agency for Science Technology and Research’s (A*Star) Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) who were working in collaboration with researchers from Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine.

Researchers found that Agrin “plays a vital role in the development and spread of cancer cells to secondary organ sites such as the lungs”, said A*Star in a news release on Thursday (26 September).

“Agrin also facilitates migration of blood vessels within growing tumours, and provides stability to a key receptor on the cells lining the blood vessels during this process,” the agency added.

In light of this, the research team found that the inhibition of Agrin led to a reduction in tumour size and progression. These findings “shed light on the mechanisms that regulate blood vessel formation and the treatment of diseases involving angiogenesis”, A*Star added.

(Photo courtesy of Dr Sayan Chakraborty)
Dr Sayan Chakraborty (second from right) with his research team from A*Star's Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology. (Photo courtesy of Dr Sayan Chakraborty)

“The knowledge that Agrin may promote blood vessel formation to aggravate liver cancers will contribute to the development of appropriate therapies. By inhibiting Agrin, we can cut off blood supply to the cancer cells and stop tumour growth,” said Dr Sayan Chakraborty, one of the study’s co-lead researchers.

Liver cancer or Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is highly prevalent in many Asian countries, and is one of the most common cancers among men in Singapore. Presently, HCC patients do not have many options apart from late stage therapies that only offer incremental benefits.

Going forward, the research team will be investigating how targeting Agrin can prevent blood vessel formation in liver and other tumours, as well as how the protein’s role in blood vessel formation can be exploited in other types of cancers.

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