(RxWiki News) Scientists love to find unusual cases and translate their findings to a broader application. A discovery made using liver parasites in Thailand may have recently allowed us to track liver cancer development with a simple blood test.
A lot of cutting edge research on liver cancers that develop in the bile ducts and gall bladder has been done in Thailand because of the high rate of cancer development due to a parasite in the region.
"Ask your doctor about cancer screening."
A partnership between George Washington University and Khon Kaen University in Thailand resulted in the largest screening trial of bile duct cancer ever performed, with nearly 4,000 people contributing to research data that will be used in predicting bile duct cancer development in the future.
The Asian liver fluke, O. viverrini, triggers an immune reaction with high levels of an immune system signal, the molecule interleukin-6, showing up in the blood as a sign of inflammation.
Researchers hypothesized that this relationship of inflammation and liver cancer could translate into a way to diagnose liver cancers that do not involve parasites.
In an initial review of the literature, they found that interleukin-6 has long been discussed as a possible marker for liver cancers, and may directly cause the abnormal developments in the liver's bile system that lead up to cancers.
The study included nearly 4,000 people in rural north-eastern Thailand, which has the highest level of bile duct cancer in the world, due to nearly 10 million people in the region having active Asian liver fluke infections.
The study narrowed the 4,000 people down to 420 patients with advanced bile duct cancers, with another 420 serving as the control group. Data from the study will be used to determine normal levels of interleukin-6, and to predict future cases of bile duct cancer based off of interleukin-6 levels.
Researchers brought ultrasound machines to look at the livers of the study participants, who were also screened with blood samples. Funding was provided by the National Institutes of Health, George Washington University, and Khon Kaen University.
The Thai Ministry of Public Health has now begun testing for levels of interleukin-6 in certain areas that have historically had high rates of cancer development, hoping to catch cancer earlier. If their testing is successful in showing a relationship between interleukin-6 and cancer prevalence, their results will have broader implications in the rest of the world.
"Typically, bile duct cancer has a late presentation, and so a very high mortality rate. Now that we've identified the IL-6 biomarker, our hope is that earlier detection is possible and earlier treatment saves more lives," said Jeffrey M. Bethony, PhD, a professor at the George Washington School of Medicine.
The article was published in the May 2012 issue of PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.
Researchers disclosed no financial conflicts of interest.