A genetic defect that can trigger the development of one of the most common types of liver cancer, and some forms of diabetes, has been identified by Michigan State University researchers.
The discovery, published online in the journal Cancer Cell, indicates a flaw in the so-called NCOA5 gene, present in both men and women, can lead to hepatocellular carcinoma — a type of liver cancer found to be two-to-four times more prevalent in men than women.
"Essentially, what this provides is evidence for a genetic susceptibility in males to this particular type of liver cancer and diabetes," said Hua Xiao, lead researcher of the project and associate professor of physiology in MSU's College of Human Medicine. "Ninety-four percent of the male mice we looked at developed the liver cancer, while 100 percent of these mice developed glucose intolerance."
Xiao notes the reason for the distinct outcomes between males and females may have to do with the different levels of hormones between genders.
"Because estrogen may function through the NCOA5 gene and previously has been found to play somewhat of a protective role against both diseases, the result is a decreased risk in females," he said. "Since males produce lower amounts of estrogen, this can contribute to their susceptibility."
Type 2 diabetes has been widely associated with liver cancer. Because of the increasing prevalence of diabetes worldwide, Xiao said the MSU research could open the door to new therapeutic options.
"At this point, it's not known if the genetic deficiency can be reversed and needs to be investigated further," Xiao said. "But if it can somehow be changed through treatments such as drug therapies, this could substantially increase the chances of men in particular warding off these diseases."
The research was funded, in part, by the National Institute of Health.
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