Research Aimed at Understanding Mechanistic Characterization of Tumor Initiating Cells
Liver cancer is rare in children and adolescents. There are two main types of childhood liver cancer: hepatoblastoma, a very rare kind of liver cancer usually found in children under 4; and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common type of liver cancer in adolescents, young adults, and adults.
HCC is one of the most aggressive and difficult to treat cancers. Although major progress has been made in understanding HCC risk factors, the molecular mechanisms that cause HCC to begin and progress are poorly understood, particularly in children. Regardless of the cause, cancer stem cells (CSC) are known to play a role in the development, growth, and spread of cancer, as well as in the cancer becoming resistant to treatment or recurring.
Every cancerous tumor is believed to have begun from a single progenitor cell that has developed the ability to survive and grow in what might otherwise be abnormal circumstances. Debanjan Dhar, PhD at the University of California, San Diego is currently conducting a study to isolate and purify HCC stem/progenitor cells long before tumor nodules are visible.
In addition, Dr. Dhar has been awarded a two-year grant from CureSearch for Children’s Cancer to study the role of a specific protein, CD44, in the creation of HCC and to investigate the molecular mechanisms that are regulated by CD44 in the development of liver tumors.