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UI Researchers Discover a Twist in Liver Cancer Development

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Researchers at the University of Iowa believe it's now more clear than ever that avoiding obesity and alcoholism could prevent liver cancer.

Dr. Thomas Rutkowski, assistant professor of anatomy and cell biology in the UI Carver Colleges of Medicine, said those two things, along with chronic hepatitis, put stress on liver cells. Those cells respond by producing a protein called CHOP.

"CHOP causes cells that are too damaged to be repaired to die," Rutkowski explained. He said normally, proteins like that protect against cancer, because cancer causes cells to divide uncontrollably and not die when they should. It doesn't work that way in a cancerous liver, however.

"What we actually found is that, quite to our surprise and contrary to what we were expecting, is that in tumors of patients with liver cancer, we found that those tumors were making a lot of the CHOP protein," Rutkowski said. In fact, in animal subjects, he said that those that couldn't produce CHOP were guarded against liver cancer.

In humans, liver cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in the world, and a rapidly growing one here in the United States. "In large part, because of the obesity epidemic in this country, and therapies for it are very poor and very few," Rutkowski told us.

He hopes this discovery will lead to better forms of liver cancer therapy down the road.

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