Using mouse models, Chinese researchers have uncovered a new mechanism that drives the development of liver cancer brought on by non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
Their results, reported on Wednesday in the journal of Science Translational Medicine, suggest that targeting this mechanism with an FDA-approved antifungal drug called Terbinafine may serve as a new therapeutic strategy in the prevention and treatment of liver cancer in patients with NAFLD, a condition that affects 30 to 40 percent of the adult population.
NAFLD is of great concern to health authorities because it is particularly prevalent among obese individuals.
Scientists have long known that NAFLD is a risk factor for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), a form of liver cancer, but the molecular processes underlying how NAFLD leads to HCC remain unclear.
Yu Jun and colleagues from Chinese University of Hong Kong focused on the role of the SQLE gene, which encodes for an enzyme named squalene epoxidase, in the pathogenesis of NAFLD-induced HCC.
They analyzed RNA from samples of both NAFLD-HCC tumor tissues and adjacent normal tissues obtained from patients, observing that SQLE was frequently overexpressed in the tumor tissues.
Yu's team found that mice with an overactive SQLE gene developed HCC tumors more frequently compared to wild type mice and Terbinafine, a compound commonly used to treat athlete's foot, markedly reduced the size of tumors in mouse models of NAFLD.
Yu, a professor of oncology, told Xinhua that the study laid new experimental foundation for preventing and treating the NAFLD-associated liver cancer.