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Systems Medicine Enables Early Detection and Prevention of Liver Cancer

Liver cancer is the sixth most common cancer worldwide. In Germany, liver cancer is a comparatively rare form of cancer, but it is often detected very late due to late onset and nonspecific symptoms. This results in a poor prognosis and high mortality rate. In addition, liver tumors respond very poorly to classical chemotherapy and treatment is primarily possible using complete tumor removal or liver transplantation. The time of diagnosis and the stage of the disease as well as the patient's condition are crucial for the success of the therapy. The identification of fundamental mechanisms in the development of liver cancer and the development of diagnostic tools and preventive measures are therefore essential.

For this reason, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is funding a research network for systems medicine-based early detection and prevention of liver cancer (LiSyM-Cancer) as part of the National Decade Against Cancer. In this interdisciplinary network, individual working groups from all over Germany are collaborating on an interdisciplinary level. Activities are focused on the key processes that can lead to liver cancer. The aim is to use innovative systems medicine research approaches to develop new and improved methods for early diagnosis and prevention of liver cancer, which will allow personalized therapeutic measures and improved predictions of disease progression.

One of the working groups in the LiSyM Cancer Network is located at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden. The project at the MPI-CBG, entitled "DEEP-HCC - Detailed Analysis of the Spatial Organization of the Development of Hepatocellular Carcinoma" has been funded with approximately 1.2 million euros from July 2021 to June 2024. The research group of MPI-CBG Director Marino Zerial is leading the project, collaborating with other groups at the institute such as the one from Meritxell Huch, Andrej Shevchenko and Christoph Zechner. The MPI-CBG researchers are investigating novel blood and imaging biomarkers for the early detection and prevention of hepatocellular carcinoma through systems biology modeling. The research project focuses on the early stages of human hepatocellular carcinoma and provides unprecedented multi-dimensional functional and spatial tumor characterization from tissue to single cell.

LiSyM-Cancer is based on the successful research activities of the BMBF predecessor program LiSyM (Systems Medicine of the Liver), which made an important contribution to the understanding of fundamental mechanisms in the development of liver diseases. The findings and methodological approaches developed within this framework will now be used and further developed to implement the goals of the LiSyM-Cancer research network.

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