Prof Tom Bird - Liver Cancer, Disease and Regeneration

Honorary Consultant Hepatologist, University of Edinburgh and Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh

Wellcome Trust Intermediate Research Fellow


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Liver cancer is the third most common cause of cancer-related death worldwide. It is becoming an increasing problem, particularly in the Western world, and its rates have trebled in Scotland in the last 20 years. Despite some improvements in outcomes for those patients in whom the disease is detected early, there remains a limited range of only minimally effective treatment options for the overwhelming majority of patients who have their disease detected at a later stage. Precision medicine offers the potential to target more effective therapies to individuals with different forms of this disease, across this highly heterogeneous cancer.

My group has been interested in studying the regenerative responses to injury and aberrant proliferative responses in cancer of hepatocytes, the principle functional cell of the liver. These cells show immense regenerative capacity but are also the source of the most common primary liver cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).

We have described how these cells enter a state of shock, named senescence, in response to injury, and how preventing them from doing so can promote liver regeneration. We are also investigating how this same senescent state occurs during early cancer formation as an anti- cancer therapeutic target.

To further understand these processes, we have developed a state-of-the-art suite of genetically engineered models of HCC, which mimics key features of the human condition. This suite is based upon the range of genetic mutations which drive HCC across the spectrum of human disease. Cross comparing between the models and patients we are able to identify novel pathways for therapy and some drug combinations which are highly effective in our cancer models. Working with academic and industrial collaborators, we are using these avatar-like models to uncover and test novel therapies, which could be used to target precision medicine dependent on the underlying characteristics of tumours in different patients.

Exposing liver cancer

Read about Tom's collaboration with the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Statistics to improve early detection of liver cancer here.

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