Researchers at Karolinska Institutet have identified a novel way to treat liver cancer which may improve outcomes for patients and reduce side effects, according to a study recently published in the journal Gut.

The researchers discovered that there is a specific connection between a protein and an IncRNA molecule in liver cancer, and by increasing the presence of this molecule, the fat depots of the tumour cell decrease, causing the division of tumour cells to cease and many of the cancer cells to die.

The researchers' discovery provides an insight into the interaction between RNA-binding proteins and lncRNA molecules, and contributes to a better scientific understanding of their role in tumours.

The study's senior author Claudia Kutter, researcher at the Department of Microbiology, Tumor and Cell Biology, Karolinska Institutet, explains: “With the help of tissue material donated by patients with liver cancer, we have been able to map both the coding and non-coding part of our genome to identify which RNA-binding proteins have a high presence in liver cancer cells.

“We found that many of these proteins interacted with a long type of non-coding RNA molecules, so-called lncRNA.”

The findings could contribute to new and effective treatments

The team conducted the study by using advanced CRISPR technology, and were able to both reduce and increase the amount of the protein and the lncRNA to see how it affected the cancer cells. Following the laboratory studies, the results were then verified in vivo.

First author of the study Jonas Nørskov Søndergaard, researcher in Kutter's research group, said the activities of pairing of the RNA-binding protein (CCT3) and the lncRNA molecule (LINC00326) can already be used in cancer diagnosis and prognosis.

“However,” he continued, “the knowledge of this particular pairing is just the beginning and there are many more combinations of RNA-binding proteins and lncRNA molecules that we will further investigate.

“In the long run, these findings can help to contribute to new and effective treatments such as RNA-based treatments that target only the diseased cells, with the possibility of reducing side effects.”