The Univeristy of Melbourne The Royal Melbourne Hopspital

A joint venture between The University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital

27 Mar 2018

Towards the early detection of liver cancer

Liver cancer in Hepatitis B patients could be detected and treated earlier with Melbourne Health-led research into Hepatitis B splice variants currently underway.

A/Prof Revill recently collaborated with investigators from the REVEAL-HBV Taiwanese study – one of the world’s most comprehensive studies of liver cancer caused by the Hepatitis B virus. 

“Our collaboration with the REVEAL study showed that patients with higher levels of splice variants were twenty three times more likely to have liver cancer than patients without splice variants,” A/Prof Revill said.

“Strikingly, up to five years before the diagnosis of liver cancer, patients had high levels of splice variants. If we had known back then that this was important, perhaps we could have commenced monitoring and treatment five years earlier, which is game changing in cancer.

“This new study aims to investigate if the findings from our previous studies hold up when looking at a different groups of persons who are living with chronic hepatitis B, and determine if splice variants cause liver cancer.”

A/Prof Revill said people living with chronic Hepatitis B who do not receive appropriate treatment have a lifelong risk of developing liver cancer and there are currently no effective biomarkers to predict onset of cancer.  This study will determine if HBV splice variants are one such biomarker.

The research is funded by a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) project grant of almost $1 million, announced in December 2017.

Associate Professor Peter Revill, Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory, The Royal Melbourne Hospital at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, is leading the research, which looks at whether Hepatitis B virus (HBV) splice variants in the blood – smaller versions of the Hepatitis B virus that differ between patients – are a predictor of liver cancer.

This builds on the work of a previous pilot study funded by Melbourne Health research grants, which found that Hepatitis B patients with liver cancer had more splice variants than patients without liver cancer, and importantly, that splice variants increased approaching the diagnosis of liver cancer.

A/Prof Revill said 880,000 people die each year from Hepatitis B related diseases worldwide, including cirrhosis and liver cancer.

“Chronic Hepatitis B is incurable and 40 per cent of all liver cancers are caused by the Hepatitis B virus,” he said.

“However, there are effective treatments which can reduce the risk of liver cancer and all persons who have chronic hepatitis B should seek medical care.

“This research could mean that people are diagnosed earlier for liver cancer, which could be lifesaving.”

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