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Centenary Institute - Medical Research
Centenary Institute - Medical Research

Improving care for liver cancer patients

Researchers from the Centenary Institute and the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPAH) are co-investigators on three separate liver cancer focused projects that have recently received funding from the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) and the Cancer Institute NSW.

All projects aim to improve outcomes for patients with liver cancer, the fastest growing cancer in Australia and the world.

The two MRFF funded projects are:

Microbial based biomarkers powered by artificial intelligence for early detection of liver cancer in Australia. The Australian Liver Cancer Microbiome Consortium, $4 million. Lead institution,  University of New South Wales. Chief Investigator: Associate Professor Amany Zekry.

The IC3 Trial: Identifying Cirrhosis and Liver Cancer in Primary Care, $3.2 million. Lead institution, University of Western Australia. Chief Investigator: Professor Leon Adams.

The Cancer Institute NSW funded project is:

The APRICA program: Accelerated translational research in PRImary Liver Cancer, $4 million. Lead institution, University of Sydney. Chief Investigator: Professor Jacob George.

Professor Geoff McCaughan (pictured), Head of the Liver injury and Cancer Program at the Centenary Institute and Director of the AW Morrow Gastroenterology and Liver Centre at RPAH, is affiliated with all three projects. He was pleased to see the National and NSW Governments supporting research in such a critical health area.

“Close to 3,000 people in Australia will be diagnosed with liver cancer this year with the long-term prospects for many of these patients being quite poor. The unfortunate reality is that the five year survival rate for liver cancer is less than 20%. It’s very encouraging that both Governments have responded so positively to addressing research in liver disease, an area which has been in need of increased funding for many years.”

Professor McCaughan said the two MRFF projects, although distinct, were complementary in purpose and outlook. Both would explore new methods to detect potential liver cancer in patients at risk for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) at an earlier stage – and ahead of existing screening processes. 

“Early detection of cirrhosis, often a prelude to liver cancer, as well as the early detection of liver cancer itself, allows for earlier curative treatments which results in improved outcomes for patients,” said Professor McCaughan.

Professor McCaughan also noted the benefits that the APRICA program of research would deliver.

“This grant will enable best clinical care across NSW including regional communities for patients with HCC. This includes maximising prevention through to new therapies and palliative care, as well as preliminary research on the liver immune response, the microbiome and disease.”

Announcements relating to these projects can be found on the Australian Government’s Department of Health website and the website of the Cancer Institute NSW.


Scholarship to support new study into cirrhosis

Improving the clinical care of patients with cirrhosis will be the focus of a new three year PhD project being undertaken at the Centenary Institute, Sydney.

In the project, liver researcher Dr David Prince will be aiming to better define the community prevalence of cirrhosis, assessing if patients are receiving appropriate stage-level care for their condition, as well as evaluating biomarkers associated with advanced deterioration in liver function.

Dr Prince who was successfully awarded a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Postgraduate Scholarship for the project, will be working under Professor Geoff McCaughan, Head of the Liver injury and Cancer Program at the Centenary Institute.

“Liver cirrhosis refers to irreversible scarring of the liver, primarily resulting from fatty liver disease, viral hepatitis and alcohol–and is associated with significant hospitalisation and  mortality rates,” said Dr Prince.

“Although cirrhosis in Australia is increasing, as well as being a leading cause of liver cancer, quality data in this area is lacking. My PhD project is looking to improve our knowledge in this important health area to help in the prevention and management of cirrhosis and its associated complications.”

Read more about the Centenary Institute’s Liver Injury and Cancer Program.

Reducing cirrhosis threat for high-risk drinkers

Research led by the Centenary Institute has shown that a healthy weight and coffee consumption may help lower the risk of high-risk drinkers developing alcohol-induced cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), which causes approximately 300,000 deaths globally each year.

Also found by the researchers in this multi-national GenomALC Consortium–involving QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and the Southern California Institute for Research and Education (SCIRE)–is that susceptibility to cirrhosis among high-risk drinkers is affected by a family history of alcohol-induced liver disease.

“Only a minority of high-risk drinkers, approximately 10-15 percent, actually end up developing alcohol-induced cirrhosis. But the survival time for those individuals who do develop this devastating disease can be as low as 1-2 years,” said Clinical Associate Professor Devanshi Seth, Head of the Centenary Institute Alcoholic Liver Disease Research Program and senior author of the published study.

“The best way to reduce harm from alcohol (including cirrhosis) is by reducing or cutting out alcohol. High-risk drinking is chronic alcohol use above the recommended guidelines that may result in cirrhosis. Unfortunately, individuals may not be aware of the dangers that heavy drinking entails. The aim of our study was to identify risks associated with cirrhosis in heavy drinkers and to gain insights into additional measures that could help in preventing or reducing cirrhosis in patients whose drinking places them at risk,” she said.

Lead author of the study, which was published in the prestigious science journal ‘American Journal of Gastroenterology’, was Dr John Whitfield from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute.

Dr Whitfield says their study found evidence that an increased risk of developing alcohol-induced cirrhosis could be inherited, especially from fathers.

“Our study showed that risk of cirrhosis was significantly increased in individuals if the father was a chronic alcohol user and had died from liver disease. We also found that high-risk drinkers who consumed coffee were less likely to develop cirrhosis, while tea drinking only marginally lowered the risk,” Dr Whitfield said.

Dr Timothy Morgan, co-senior author of the study and researcher at the SCIRE notes that they’ve also been able to show that obesity and diabetes are both independently linked with an increased risk of alcohol-induced cirrhosis. “High-risk drinkers who have diabetes in middle age are particularly likely to progress to cirrhosis,” he said.

Clinical Associate Professor Seth believes that their findings may have major public health consequences. “Measures such as maintaining a healthy bodyweight, intensive treatment of diabetes or pre-diabetic states, and encouragement of coffee consumption may be useful lifestyle interventions to reduce the risk of alcohol-induced cirrhosis for high-risk drinkers.” she said.

The research was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), USA.

Read the full media release here.

Publication: Obesity, Diabetes, Coffee, Tea, and Cannabis Use Alter Risk for Alcohol-Related Cirrhosis in 2 Large Cohorts of High-Risk Drinkers.

Gene discovery linked to alcohol-induced liver disease

The findings of an international study led by the Centenary Institute suggests that the possibility of high-risk drinkers developing alcohol-induced cirrhosis is in part related to genetic factors.

“Only a small proportion of high-risk drinkers, about 15 percent, actually develop cirrhosis but those who do are at high risk of death and require substantial health-care support,” said senior author of the published study Clinical Associate Professor Devanshi Seth, Head of the Centenary Institute Alcoholic Liver Disease Research Program and also affiliated with Drug Health Services, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney Local Health District.

“We wanted to see if certain high-risk drinkers had a genetic predisposition for alcohol-induced cirrhosis. High-risk drinking is chronic alcohol use above recommended guidelines,” said Clinical Associate Professor Seth.

Reported in the science journal ‘Hepatology’ the study was undertaken by a multi-national GenomALC Consortium involving the Southern California Institute for Research and Education (SCIRE) and other research collaborators.

Identified by the study researchers is a new gene associated with alcohol-induced cirrhosis. The novel FAF2 gene is associated with a reduced cirrhosis risk for heavy drinkers. Also confirmed by the study were four additional genes, three previously found to be associated with an increased risk and one with reduced risk of cirrhosis in heavy drinkers.

“Interestingly, a commonality of these genes, including the novel FAF2, is that they appear to affect the lipid (fat) metabolism pathway,” said Clinical Associate Professor Seth.

“The findings are important as due to heavy drinking, it is the build-up of lipid droplets in the liver, that can cause inflammation, and which may then lead to serious liver complications such as cirrhosis in some drinkers,” she said.

The researchers believe that the identified genes are influencing the body’s ability to regulate lipid droplets in the liver and are therefore influencing cirrhosis risk levels.

“This new understanding opens the door to the future development of exciting new drug treatments that can potentially target these specific genes and lipid processes, and reduce the chances of at-risk individuals contracting this devastating disease,” said Dr Timothy Morgan, co-senior author of the study and researcher at the SCIRE.

Clinical Associate Professor Seth says, “Abstaining or reducing alcohol use remains the most effective treatment, however fully understanding the genetic mechanics of alcohol-induced cirrhosis is also key to improving patient diagnosis and treatment decisions.”

“Identifying these genes at an individual level, in combination with assessing lifestyle options, means that we will now be able to predict an individual’s risk profile and then better personalise an appropriate treatment response,” she said.

The research was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), USA.

Read the full media release here.

Publication: Genome-wide association study and meta-analysis on alcohol-related liver cirrhosis identifies novel genetic risk factors.

Centenary Institute’s rising stars

The Centenary Institute’s Dr Stefan Oehlers (Immune-vascular Interactions Laboratory within the Tuberculosis Research Program), Dr Jessamy Tiffen (Melanoma Oncology and Immunology Program) and Dr Hui Emma Zhang (Liver Enzymes in Metabolism and Inflammation Program) have all been named on the Educator’s list of Higher Education Rising Stars for 2020.

The list showcases individuals across the higher education spectrum who are making waves in the early stages of their careers and who have demonstrated leadership, innovation and achievement in their career to date.

Read more by clicking the link here:

Award to bolster the development of a new liver disease test

Pictured: Dr Hui Emma Zhang, Professor Mark Gorrell and Dr Avik Majumdar

Collaborative research between the Centenary Institute and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital has been recognised with a prestigious award.

Dr Avik Majumdar, a staff specialist transplant hepatologist at RPA Hospital, is among six recipients of the 2019 Gilead Australia Fellowship Program, which awarded a total of $250,000 for these six research projects.

Dr Majumdar has been collaborating with several Centenary researchers on the project, including Head of the Liver Enzymes in Metabolism and Inflammation Program Professor Mark Gorrell, Head of the Liver injury and Cancer Program Professor Geoff McCaughan, and Dr Hui Emma Zhang.

The group is working to validate an alternative test for people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), to understand whether a patient is at risk of developing more severe disease, and requires further treatment.

Congratulations Dr Majumdar and your collaborators at Centenary on this significant achievement!


Learn more about Centenary’s Liver Enzymes in Metabolism and Inflammation and Liver Injury and Cancer Programs.

Read about how Dr Hui Emma Zhang led a recent study, which discovered dozens of new likely targets for particular enzyme (FAP) that is within most tumours.

Four Centenary researchers awarded NHMRC grants

Pictured: Dr Jacob Qi, Dr Renjing Liu and Professor Phil Hansbro.

The Centenary Institute would like to congratulate four of our researchers on securing funding under the Federal Government’s highly-competitive National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) scheme.

Professor Phil Hansbro, Head of Centenary’s Centre for Inflammation, has been awarded a four-year Project Grant. His team will use the funding to develop new therapies for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – the third leading cause of death worldwide.

Dr Renjing Liu, Head of the Agnes Ginges Laboratory for Diseases of the Aorta in Centenary’s Vascular Biology Program, has been awarded two NHMRC project grants starting in 2019 to explore the role of epigenetics in cardiovascular diseases.

“Collaboration is key to successful research. The funding from NHMRC will allow me to continue my collaborations with leading researchers both nationally and abroad because improving human health is a global effort. It will also allow me to build a strong team to see that our work will contribute to increased understanding of biology and diseases, and add to making a difference in people’s lives,” says Dr Liu.

Dr Jacob Qi, also from Centenary’s Vascular Biology Program, has been awarded a three-year grant, which he will use to bolster his research into discovering the metabolic basis of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease progression to liver disease.

Dr Gerard Chu from Centenary’s Gene and Stem Cell Therapy Program, has been awarded a three-year Postgraduate Scholarship grant. Dr Chu’s research is focused on analysing the immune response and optimising the effectiveness of Mesothelin CAR T-Cell therapy in cancer.

Earlier this year, Centenary’s Professor Chris Semsarian, Associate Professor Jodie Ingles and Professor Warwick Britton were also awarded funding from the NHMRC. Read more about those grants here.