Two unrelated scientific teams have completed gene-mapping studies of hepatocellular carcinoma, a form of liver cancer commonly caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV) and/or the hepatitis C virus (HCV), according to research published in Nature Genetics and reported by AsianScientist. Researchers hope that this information will lead to improvements in liver cancer diagnosis and treatment.

The first team, from China and Singapore, studied samples of tumor cells and non-cancerous adjacent cells from 81 HBV-positive and 7 HBV-negative liver cancer patients. The other team, comprised of Japanese scientists, used tumor and blood samples from 11 HBV-positive, 14 HCV-positive, and 2 non-hepatitis liver cancer patients. (Hepatitis B is the primary cause of liver cancer in China, while hepatitis C is the primary cause of liver cancer in Japan.)

Both teams used whole genome sequencing processes to search for specific mutations that might have caused liver cells to turn cancerous. This included looking for locations where viral DNA has been integrated into a patient’s own genetic structure. Notably, the China-Singapore team identified specific characteristics of this genetic integration that may help HBV take over and reproduce within infected tumor cells.

“A deep understanding of the recurring HBV insertions in [this form of liver cancer] will help the research community identify novel molecular targets in liver cancer, for which effective treatments are still limited,” said John Luk, DrMedSc, a study leader and coauthor, and an adjunct professor at the National University of Singapore.