12 years ago Iván Moya won a scholarship to study at the Catholic University of Belgium (VIB-KULeuven), where he earned his PhD in Biomedical Sciences.
Subsequently, he joined the team of researchers led by Dr. Georg Halder who has just published the result of a scientific investigation that constitutes a contribution in the fight against the so-called 21st century pandemic: cancer.
In particular they have focused on primary liver cancer, cholangio carcinoma, the most lethal of all that affect this organ, and hepatocellular carcinoma.
“When studying liver tumors and their interaction with normal tissue, we find that normal cells around the tumor already mount an antitumor defense response, which is quite similar to the tissue regeneration program,” says Iván Moya, a researcher at the University of Las Américas (UDLA), in Quito.
This could change the therapeutic strategies against liver cancer, which kills 788,000 people each year globally, according to the UN.
“Finally we did experiments where we took metastases from melanoma of the skin that grew in the liver and we could also eliminate them, which indicates that this mechanism is not specific for primary liver tumors, but also for metastatic tumors derived from other organs,” he describes the expert.
Moya detected that healthy cells around the tumor were stopping their growth.
This is the first description of this phenomenon recorded and has been collected by Science Magazine, on November 22, 2019.
“When we artificially overactivate the genes that control this antitumor response in the liver, the tumors not only stop growing, but are eliminated after two weeks. We are still investigating whether this antitumor mechanism works in tumors growing in other organs, ”he explains.
The team discovered that around the tumors the YAP and TAZ-like proteins showed an unusual activation, since they are not normally present in that organ.
“It was already known that these proteins were important for the formation of tumors, but it was not known that they fulfilled an antitumor function in normal cells around the tumors,” he tells this newspaper.
The first finding was that, by inactivating the YAP and TAP genes in normal cells near the tumor, they grew out of control.
“This implied that the liver naturally restricted tumor growth, but obviously as they are cancer cells they eventually grow and win the battle against the normal organ,” he describes.
In this first phase they concluded that the liver has a natural mechanism to fight cancer and that it can be hyperactivated to induce the elimination of liver tumors. Now they investigate whether this occurs in other organs.
These genes were thought to be important for tumor growth only.
“The discovery shows that by inhibiting the activity of these genes, not only does it kill the tumor, but it can enhance more aggressive growth. The suggested strategy is to stimulate the activity of YAP and TAZ to cause its elimination ”.
The future of this research is the promise to set aside invasive therapies and replace them.