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Dhaka Tribune

A breakthrough in liver cancer detection

Bangladeshi scientists developed a simple liver cancer test to detect the disease early

Update : 23 Jul 2023, 05:08 PM

Bangladesh's icddr,b, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, and a team of clinicians and scientists with the support of the Hong Kong-based biotech farm HKG Epitherapeutics Ltd have developed a simple test that can detect liver cancer early.

This transformative high-throughput assay would be able to detect Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC) early, according to a report published in the “Nature” journal.

A dissemination seminar on the research outcome was also held in Dhaka on Sunday.

In high throughput screening, automated equipment is used to rapidly test thousands of millions of samples for biological activity at the model organism, cellular, pathway, or molecular level.

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common type of primary liver cancer and occurs most often in people with chronic liver diseases, such as cirrhosis caused by hepatitis B or hepatitis C infection.

The developed test uses sophisticated sequencing and multiplexing techniques to differentiate HCC samples from normal tissues, other blood samples, and non-HCC tumours, overcoming the limitations of traditional diagnostic methods.

Professor Moshe Szyf, chairman of HKG Epitherapeutics Lt., and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada presented the keynote, Professor Dr Mamun Al Mahtab, Hepatologist, BSMMU discussed Bangladesh and global scenario regarding hepatitis and liver cancer, and icddr,b scientist Dr Wasif Ali Khan discussed the protocol title, during the seminar.

Professor Dr Sharfuddin Ahmed, vice chancellor, BSMMU, was present as the chief guest. 

Dr Rafique-us-Saleheen, program manager-1, Non-communicable Disease Control Program, DGHS, and Dr Afsana Alamgir Khan, assistant director (Project Coordination), of the directorate general for health services were present as special guests and icddr,b's Executive Director Dr Tahmeed Ahmed chaired the event.

Prof Mamun Al Mahtab Courtesy

Liver cancer, a prevalent global cancer, is often detected at advanced stages, leading to treatment challenges and reduced survival rates.

The research group evaluated the assay on 554 clinical study participants, comprising liver cancer patients, non-liver cancer patients, individuals with chronic hepatitis B, and healthy controls.

The results revealed a liver cancer detection sensitivity of 84.5% at 95% specificity, demonstrating its promising potential for early liver cancer detection, a registry of clinical trials run by the United States National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, the icddr,b said in a statement.

“Today's dissemination seminar marks a remarkable stride in the field of healthcare, with the potential to transform liver cancer detection. As we unite to combat liver cancer, this innovative assay, rooted in distinctive DNA methylation signatures, holds the promise to positively impact high-risk populations, reducing the burden of this prevalent cancer,” the BSMMU Vice-chancellor said.

Prof Moshe Szyf said: “Our developed high-throughput assay represents an innovative step forward in cancer detection. It contributes significantly to the early detection of HCC, with the potential to transform cancer diagnostics and patient outcomes.”  

Prof Dr Mamun Al Mahtab, head of the Interventional Hepatology Division, BSMMU, who led this research from BSMMU, said: “While further study is required, this development represents a substantial stride towards a standard early detection tool for individuals at high risk of liver cancer, with the ability to considerably reduce the disease's impact on people at risk of developing liver cancer”.

Dr Wasif Ali Khan, the principal investigator of the research who led and coordinated the project, said: “This breakthrough development is a critical milestone in liver cancer detection, with tremendous potential to save lives and improve healthcare in Bangladesh.”

“Our unwavering commitment to advancing cancer diagnostics is reflected in this remarkable achievement, aimed at enhancing the well-being of our population. The test will significantly reduce the burden of liver cancer and create a healthier future for all,” he added.

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