Potential New Liver Cancer Risk Classification Test for Patients with Hepatitis B

Specific blood-born microRNAs mutate before the development of hepatocellular carcinoma.

Researchers found that certain blood-born molecules can potentially predict the development of hepatocellular carcinoma in patients who have hepatitis B virus (HBV).

Included in the study were 373 patients with HBV, who were analyzed for their molecular signature through blood samples. There were 40 patients who developed hepatocellular carcinoma after a median follow-up of 4.5 years, according to the study published in Oncotarget.

Researchers then examined a panel or 24 microRNAs, and discovered that 15 had changed their normal gene expression pattern prior to the development of cancer.

Previously, the researchers identified the microRNAs, but it was unclear whether the changes happened before or after the cancer. Previous studies also analyzed samples from patient biopsies.

"This research confirms previous work on microRNAs and liver cancer and goes further to show that these microRNAs may be able to predict the development of liver cancer through a non-invasive blood test," said the study’s first author Chun Wang.

In the current study, researchers were able to reclassify 58% of patients deemed high risk for developing liver cancer by the current non-invasive test for patients with HBV, according to the study.

Researchers believe even their new method needs to be improved upon.

"We need to find more microRNAs that may predict liver cancer in order to sharpen this tool for identifying high risk patients," concluded Hushan Yang, PhD. "Through collaboration with Dr. Hann in the Department of Medicine at Jefferson, we continue to work on improving this diagnostic method."