With the generous support of the Cromwell Foundation in recent years, Dr Richard Skoien (in partnership with the Australian Liver Foundation) is leading the fight against liver cancer through the development of an early detection blood test.
Liver cancer is the second largest cause of cancer death in the world. It currently affects more than 1,500 Australians each year and its incidence is increasing. In terms of overall survival rates, it is approximately five times as lethal as breast cancer and four times as lethal as bowel cancer.
Due to its lack of symptoms, liver cancer is usually detected at a very late stage and the probability of survival five years after diagnosis is only 16%. In contrast, early diagnosis and treatment of liver cancer carries an excellent prognosis, with treatment usually being curative for tumours less than two centimetres in size. Unfortunately, current diagnostic methods are either relatively poor at indicating the presence of cancer, or involve highly invasive procedures.
The Cromwell Foundation has donated over $100,000 over two years to the Australian Liver Foundation, with the funds used to help drive the research behind the development of a novel blood test which will likely improve early diagnosis. The project aims to identify a ‘signature’ of circulating genetic material called ‘microRNA’ which could represent an ideal marker of liver cancer.
So far, the donation has funded a pilot study during 2015/16 of patients currently suffering chronic liver disease. The study identified at least ten microRNAs in human blood that are differentially-expressed in liver cancer. These are now being investigated further to determine their role in the development of liver cancer.
The research team have also developed a panel of microRNAs that are found to be positive in around 85% of proven liver cancer cases.
Based on these promising results, the findings will be validated in another patient cohort as a non-invasive diagnostic test and the microRNA profiles further tested to examine their association with other potentially fatal complications, such as variceal bleeding.
Dr Richard Skoien said early detection is key for the survival of liver cancer patients and the funding from the Cromwell Foundation takes the Australian Liver Foundation one step closer to finding a solution.
“These findings and developments are an exciting step in our journey to early diagnosis. Thanks to the generous support of the Cromwell Foundation, we have made significant inroads in the last few years and our research continues on track,” Dr Skoien said.
“It’s anticipated that the findings of this project will form an ongoing research project into consistently improving early diagnosis measures and increasing survival rates.”
Paul Weightman, Chairman of the Cromwell Foundation, said the Foundation was proud to support such a worthy research project.
“The research conducted by the Australian Liver Foundation has the potential to positively impact thousands of lives,” Mr Weightman said.
“At some stage in our lives, we will all know someone affected by liver cancer and the development of an early detection blood test will dramatically improve treatment. We are dedicated to supporting lesser known causes and donating to make a difference.”
The Cromwell Foundation is proud to support charities that receive little public attention, but whose valuable work will benefit significantly through philanthropic support.
About the Australian Liver Foundation
The Australian Liver Foundation was established in response to the huge and growing need for more research into diseases of the liver and bile duct.
Donations to the Cromwell Foundation of more than $2 are tax deductible. To donate or seek more information, visit www.cromwellfoundation.org.au.
Originally published in Insight Autumn 2017.