Circulating microRNAs may be used as noninvasive markers for predicting risk for developing hepatocellular carcinoma in patients with hepatitis B virus infection, according to recently published findings.
“This research confirms previous work on microRNAs and liver cancer and goes further to show that these microRNAs may be able to predict the development of liver cancer through a non-invasive blood test,” Chun Wang, MD, a visiting scholar in the department of medical oncology, Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, said in a press release.
Wang and colleagues, including Hushan Yang, PhD, associate professor of medical oncology and researcher at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University, analyzed molecular blood samples of 379 patients with HBV without cancer. Forty patients developed HCC during a median follow-up of 4.5 years (median time to HCC diagnosis, 4 years).
To determine any associations between microRNA (miRNA) expression with risk for HCC, researchers further analyzed a panel of 24 miRNAs, small molecules that regulate gene activity.
Results from the Significance Analysis of Microarrays analysis showed 15 of the 24 miRNAs were significantly associated with HCC. Seven were associated with an increased risk for HCC: miR-122, miR-99a, miR-331, miR-125b, miR-23b, miR-92a and miR-26a; and eight were associated with a decreased risk for HCC: miR-652, miR-23a, miR-27a, miR-34a, miR-145, miR-10a, miR-150 and let-7f.
To determine the significance of these miRNAs as a panel, researchers used a risk score based on the linear combination of the expression levels of the 15 miRNAs. This showed that patients with a high miRNA-based risk score had an increased risk for HCC risk compared with patients with a low miRNA-based risk score, in univariate analysis (HR = 6.56; 95% CI, 2.74-15.7) and multivariate analysis (HR = 3.57; 95% CI, 1.34-9.48). The risk score significantly increased the HCC prediction performance of alpha-fetoprotein (P < .0001), according to the research.
Computer analyses showed genes targeted by the 15 miRNAs are mainly enriched in the transforming growth factor-beta signaling pathway.
“We need to find more microRNAs that may predict liver cancer in order to sharpen this tool for identifying high risk patients,” Yang said in the release. “Through collaboration. … we continue to work on improving this diagnostic method.”
The researchers concluded: “We identified aberrant serum miRNA expressions that were associated with HBV-related HCC risk. Our findings suggested that circulating miRNAs may serve as noninvasive biomarkers for the risk prediction of HCC in HBV patients.” – by Melinda Stevens
Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.