In experiments on mice, the team led by Devanand Sarkar at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, the US, demonstrated the role of astrocyte elevated gene-1 (AEG-1), in hepatocellular carcinoma, or liver cancer.
The mouse model, published in the journal Hepatology, represents a critical step in understanding the molecular mechanisms of liver cancer progression and could lead to novel therapies for the disease, the researchers said.
AEG-1 was originally cloned in the lab of study co-author Paul Fisher of the Department of Human and Molecular Genetics and director of VCU Institute of Molecular Medicine (VIMM).
"My colleagues and I have been researching the role of AEG-1 in cancer development for several years and have shown it is linked to a diverse array of cancers, including liver cancer," Sarkar said in a statement.
"This mouse model represents a breakthrough in our ability to test and translate our laboratory findings."
The mouse model gave the team a deeper understanding of the role of AEG-1 in liver cancer. The researchers confirmed AEG-1 overexpression significantly accelerated the progression of liver cancer.
It also caused steatosis, or fatty liver, a mechanism that promotes inflammation and cancer progression, they found.
In addition, the mouse model substantiated laboratory findings that suggested that AEG-1 plays a role in protecting liver cancer cells from chemotherapeutic drugs and alters tumor angiogenesis, or the way that new blood vessels are formed within the tumour, the researchers said.
They now plan to use this model to further explore the molecular mechanisms in which AEG-1 promotes liver cancer, including the role of AEG-1 in fat metabolism and obesity-related diseases.
"This model moves us forward in the research process by allowing us to test a variety of compounds that could inhibit AEG-1 and prevent the development and progression of liver cancer," Sarkar said.
"Ultimately, we hope our efforts will lead to new therapies and save lives," he added.