Liver Cancer
Dr Salvatore Papa

Liver cancer

Guts UK is proud to award £50,000 to Dr Salvatore Papa at the University of Leeds for his research into liver cancer.

How does liver cancer develop?

Most cases of liver cancer develop from liver diseases such as cirrhosis (liver scarring). Liver cells in scarred livers can turn into cancer cells, because they change the way they gain their energy, in order to survive. This can eventually generate tumours and the cells become cancerous. Only 3 in 20 people diagnosed with liver cancer in England survive their disease for 5 years or more.

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common type of liver cancer. If there’s a build-up of toxic molecules from diet, alcohol or infections, the liver becomes sick and inflamed. To repair this damage, the body grows more cells to replace dead cells, but over time, this leads to permanent scarring of the liver.

What do we know already?

It is thought that our livers change the way they gain their energy, in order to cheat cell death. But these damaged cells can eventually generate tumours, becoming cancerous. We also know that cancer cells increase their consumption of sugar (glucose), to fuel their rapid growth and strike against cell death.

Dr Papa’s team have learnt that liver cancer’s (HCC) ‘favourite food’ is glucose. They have observed that when less glucose is available (as an energy source for the cells), these cancer cells die. But we need to know more about this process.

What does this research want to understand?

The team have designed a set of experiments aiming to understand if it is possible to stop liver cells using glucose as an energy source and therefore prevent cancerous cells developing. They want to discover whether starving the liver of glucose will cause the cancer cells to die.

How might this benefit those with liver cancer?

If successful, this study could help in developing strategies that could treat early liver cancer, or prevent it entirely. If the team can identify molecules that stop liver cells consuming glucose, they hope to test these in patients with inoperable liver cancer.

“We’d like to thank Guts UK for their support with this project. If successful, we will identify a weakness in this type of cancer, which could pave way for potential new treatments.”

Only 3 in 20 people diagnosed with liver cancer in England survive their disease for 5 years or more. Guts UK wants to change this. This research has the potential to save lives, identifying new treatments for liver cancer and giving people a fighting chance.

Guts UK’s research has the capacity to save lives. Your donations make it possible. Help the UK get to grips with guts by donating to Guts UK today.

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> Timings & Scientific Title

Dr Salvatore Papa • University of Leeds • Awarded £50,000 from Guts UK

Timings: November 2020 – November 2022

Scientific Title: Starving livers of glucose for HCC prevention and treatment.