DKK1 could lead to a liver cancer blood test

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common form of liver cancer, and is usually a result of hepatitis B or C infection, or cirrhosis of the liver. Diagnosis is generally through CT or MRI scanning, but biomarkers could make diagnosis simpler, quicker, more effective and less expensive. Researchers in China, publishing online in The Lancet Oncology, have found a protein that could lead to the development of a simple, blood-based test.

Dickkopf-related protein 1 (DKK1), which is coded for by the DKK1 gene, is a protein involved in the development of the embryo. However, things go wrong; the protein has been linked with a collection of different cancers, including hepatocellular carcinoma, and, based on this, the Chinese team screened blood samples from 831 healthy people and patients with hepatocellular carcinoma, chronic hepatitis B virus infection, or liver cirrhosis for DKK1, and then validated the results in 453 people.

Overall, the levels of DKK1 were higher in the patients with liver cancer than in the healthy people and those with other liver diseases. When the DKK1 biomarker was combined with alpha-fetoprotein, this improved the accuracy of the diagnosis even further.

One-third of the people with hepatitis B virus infection worldwide live in China, and each year in the country 300,000 people die from diseases linked with hepatitis B virus infection. And 180,000 of these deaths are from hepatocellular carcinoma. Developing a blood-based test could help doctors in China, and worldwide, pick out those people with liver cancer from those with other liver diseases, such as hepatitis B virus infection and liver cirrhosis, cutting the time to diagnosis and treatment.

- check out the abstract in The Lancet Oncology