Institut Pasteur Korea [Korea Cancer Prevention Day (Mar 21)] Institut Pasteur Korea is tackling liver cancer!

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[Korea Cancer Prevention Day (Mar 21)] Institut Pasteur Korea is tackling liver cancer!
March 19, 2021

[Korea Cancer Prevention Day (Mar 21)]
Institut Pasteur Korea is tackling liver cancer!

1. What is Cancer Prevention Day (Mar 21)?

Have you heard about the "Cancer Control Act" in Korea? The 'Cancer Control Act' was enacted to reduce the pain and damage of individuals and the social burden caused by cancers and to promote public health by establishing and implementing policies on the prevention, treatment, and research of cancer in a comprehensive manner. It is one of the new laws that have been in force since Sep. 2020 in Korea.
The 'Cancer Control Act' designates Mar 21 every year as the 'Cancer Prevention Day' to prevent, treat, and manage cancer. It specifies that the country should conduct various activities to raise the public's interest in cancer management. Furthermore, Feb 4 every year is World Cancer Day, established by the UICC (Union for International Cancer Control).
Efforts to control cancer are being made actively both nationally and globally, for which the Institut Pasteur Korea is also contributing by pursuing the development of new drugs for liver cancer and researching rapid diagnosis of liver cancer prognosis.

2. Cancer Status

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that about 1 in 6 deaths is due to cancer and about 70% of deaths from cancer occur in low- and middle-income countries. It also highlighted that the economic impact of cancer is significant and increasing, and the total annual economic cost of cancer in 2010 was estimated at US$ 1.16 trillion
In the Cancer Today report, breast cancer showed the highest incidence rates, followed by prostate cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, cervical cancer, stomach cancer, liver cancer, and uterine cancer in order.

3. About liver cancer

The liver is the largest organ in our body and is about 2% of our body weight in adults. It plays a significant role in our body, such as the metabolism of nutrients, detoxification, and immunity, and can regenerate when damaged or excised.

Liver cancer is a case of malignant tumor in the liver. According to the Cancer Registration Statistics by the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare, as of 2018 in Korea, liver cancer accounts for about 6.5% of all cancers, and the number of male patients is about three times higher than the females. Besides, liver cancer has the highest mortality rate within 1 year after the diagnosis, following pancreatic cancer, and has a very high mortality rate as the 5-year survival rate is less than 16.9%.

Liver cancer cells (Credit : Institut Pasteur Korea)

The leading cause of liver cancer is a chronic liver disease caused by hepatitis B or C virus infection. More than 70% of liver cancer is caused by infection by the hepatitis B virus.
There are surgical and non-surgical methods to treat liver cancer, and only about 20% of liver cancer cases can be treated surgically. Therefore, the development of effective therapeutics is critical.
4. Institut Pasteur Korea is developing new drugs for liver cancer and liver fibrosis.

The Cancer Biology Research Lab. (CBL) of the Institut Pasteur Korea(IPK), led by Dr. Haengran Seo, focuses on the development of treatments for liver cancer and liver fibrosis and the research on rapid diagnosis of liver cancer prognosis.

Most of liver cancer patients have liver cirrhosis, which is a symptom of hardening and contracting liver tissue due to liver fibrosis. The researchers of CBL are developing a liver fibrosis treatment that helps restore the hardened liver tissue to its normal state and maximize the absorption rate and therapeutic effects of anticancer drugs. Additionally, co-administration of liver fibrosis treatment and liver cancer treatment is under evaluation as a strategy to enhance the anticancer treatment effect.

Due to the progression of liver fibrosis, the size of the 3D multicellular liver shperoid becomes hard (A → B). Hepatic fibrosis treatment can restore the hardening of the hepatic globules like C, thereby increasing the absorption of drugs and improving the therapeutic effect (Source: Institut Pasteur Korea)

Although research on the development of treatments for liver cancer and liver fibrosis is ongoing, treatments under development based on specific drug targets are frequently observed to fail in the clinical phases. The conventional way of basic medical research was conducted in a two-dimensional cell monolayer culture, in which the environment was different from that of the body. So, it was challenging to translate the basic research into the clinical phase.
Recently, knowledge in and understanding of 3D cell culture have been increased, attracting efforts to apply it to a drug screening platform and discovering a new target. Accordingly, Dr. Seo's team has built a 3D multicellular liver spheroids model, mimicking the human body's actual environment to develop a drug that would show high potency in the real human body.

About the 3D multicellular liver spheroids model

The 3D multicellular liver spheroids model is a research model built similar to the clinical environment. It includes liver cancer cells and their surroundings (tumor microenvironment), such as blood vessels, immune cells, fibroblasts, signaling molecules, and extracellular matrix. The tumor and tumor microenvironment are closely related and constantly interact with each other, just like an orchestra. Using this research model mimicking the actual clinical environment provides an advantage to observe and analyze the human body's reaction to drugs in a similar manner as in clinical practice. In this way, researchers can accelerate drug discovery and increase the success rate.


Based on this innovative technology, Dr. Seo and her team take various approaches utilizing small molecules, recombinant proteins, natural products, and traditional herbal medicines to develop effective therapeutics. The team is carrying out multiple projects supported by the Korean Ministry of Science and ICT and accelerating the translation of the drug candidates developed from the research into clinical phases.


Researchers at CBL team (Credit: Institut Pasteur Korea)

The researchers have successfully developed lead compounds and are preparing a technology transfer of natural products that showed excellent animal test efficacy. Related research results were published in several world-renowned scientific journals such as Cancers and Scientific Reports.
Additionally, as liver cancer has a very high recurrence rate within 5 years and a high probability of death in case of recurrence, Dr. Seo's team is collaborating with the Asan Medical Center in the development of biomarkers that can predict recurrence.

Dr. Haengran Seo said, "Working at the hospital for joint research, I felt a great deal of pain to witness the patients suffering. I would like to committee my talents and knowledge to research, hoping to alleviate patients' pain. I wish my children would feel proud of my sincere efforts."

Supporting the CBL team's devotion to researching and developing a new drug that will help the patients, we look forward to the successful results!