GCU collaboration identifies a new genetic risk factor for liver cancer

Dr Hamish Innes, an epidemiologist and biostatistician at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), has helped discover a new genetic risk factor for liver cancer.

He made the discovery with international experts including Dr Stephan Buch from University Hospital Dresden in Germany, Professor Felix Stickel from the University Hospital of Zurich in Switzerland, Professor Marsha Morgan, UCL Institute for Liver & Digestive Health UK, and Professor Jochen Hampe, University Hospital Dresden.

Dr Innes, Research Fellow in the Centre for Living’s Sexual Health & Blood Borne Virus research group, is joint-first author with Dr Buch in a newly published research paper entitled ‘Genetic variation in TERT modifies the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma in alcohol-related cirrhosis: results from a genome-wide case-control study’ in the prestigious GUT journal.

He said: “I am very proud to have contributed to this significant discovery with my colleagues Stephan Buch, Felix Stickel, Marsha Morgan and Jochen Hampe, and many other collaborators.

“Using large datasets from various biobanks and clinical cohorts across Europe, we have uncovered a new genetic risk factor for liver cancer in patients with alcohol-related cirrhosis.”

Dr Innes explained that liver cancer is a heritable condition, but the specific genetic risk factors involved remain largely unknown.

He added: “This newly discovered variant is known as rs2242652. At this genetic site, people naturally carry either an adenine DNA base or alternatively a guanine DNA base. Our study shows that people who carry the adenine base have a considerably lower risk of developing liver cancer.

“This association extends also to patients with hepatitis C related cirrhosis as well as those with alcohol related cirrhosis. The rs2242652 variant lies in a gene called TERT, which regulates telomeres (i.e. repeated DNA segments found at the end of chromosomes) and thereby cellular senescence.”

Dr Innes is a key researcher in University’s Research Centre for Health (ReaCH) – improving health and wellbeing for all – which makes a direct and significant contribution to Sustainable Development Goal 3 – good health and wellbeing – issued by United Nations in 2015 as a blueprint for peace and prosperity across the planet.

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