The circadian clock, basically a 24-hour timekeeping system that operates in all cells of the body and regulates sleep, metabolism, and other vital body functions, could play a critical role in the fight against certain types of liver cancer, according to a recent study.
“We were able to inhibit the growth of liver cancer in a mouse model by manipulating the circadian clock at the cellular level,” said Kristin Eckel-Mahan, Ph.D., the study’s senior author and an assistant professor with the Center for Metabolic and Degenerative Diseases at McGovern Medical School at UT Health.
Testing on human samples confirmed their findings.
The team discovered “a malfunctioning protein that was inhibiting the expression of a key circadian transcription factor and blocking the ability of a tumor suppressor to perform its normal 24-hour cellular functions”. When they forced the mutated cells to re-express the deficient circadian protein, these ended up dying. Approximately 50% of liver tumors express this alteration.
Trials concentrated on hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common form of liver malignancy and one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths. More than 42.000 new cases are diagnosed each year in the United States, and ffive-yearsurvival rates can be as low as 3%.
“These results suggest that targeting the circadian clock in HCC may be a promising treatment for the growth and progression of HCC tumors”.
Determining how to prevent disruption of the clock in the first place is the next big objective for the team. Finding the answer to this problem could lead to a completely new approach in cancer treatment.