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Targeting nerve growth factor may cure liver cancer

Nerve growth factor (NGF), as the name says, is an essential peptide factor for the growth and differentiation of neuronal cells. Therefore we can imagine that this growth factor is important for the nervous system including brain. But a recent scientific report published in the October 7 issue of the World Journal of Gastroenterology tells us another surprising and exciting discovery about this growth factor: NGF is positively related with liver cancer, the No.2 killer among all kinds of cancers in the world.

This research was collaboration among scientists from National Research Council of Italy, Marino Hospital in Rome, Regina Elena Cancer Institute in Rome, and University of Rome. This fruitful collaboration was under the leadership of Dr Annalucia Serafino, a talented biologist who has made her well-recognized reputation in cancer research and hepatitis C virus research. She is holding a senior researcher position in the national research council in Rome, which plays a similar role as the National Institutes of Health in the United States.

With many beautiful pictures of immunohistology, these scientists showed that NGF and its receptor trkANGF were expressed in the liver of the patients troubled with liver cirrhosis and/or hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) while these two molecules are not detected in the liver of healthy people. For a growth factor to affect a cell, there should be its specific receptor expressed on the surface of the target cell. Since both NGF and its specific receptor are abnormally expressed in the liver of patients, NGF seems to be expressed by liver cells to affect themselves (so called autocrine) or to affect adjacent cells (so called paracrine) in patients with liver cirrhosis and/or HCC.

These important discoveries indicate that NGF is playing a critical role in the development of liver cirrhosis and its progression towards HCC. Based on this discovery, targeting the NGF or its specific receptor trkANGF in diseased liver may suppress or prevent the development of liver cirrhosis and HCC. In the near future, bioengineers may be able to design a medicine directed to liver to inactivating NGF or its receptor.

The discovery reported in this article also opens up the possibility to use NGF in the early diagnosis of liver cirrhosis and HCC because of the high and specific expression of this growth factor in the liver progressing into liver cirrhosis and/or HCC.


Contact: Lixin Zhu
World Journal of Gastroenterology

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