Debanjan Dhar, PhD
Project: Mechanistic Characterization of Tumor Initiating Cells that Give Rise to Hepatocellular Carcinoma
Liver cancer is rare in children and adolescents. There are two main types of childhood liver cancer: hepatoblastoma, a very rare liver cancer usually found in children under 4; and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common type of liver cancer in adolescents and young adults. HCC is aggressive and difficult to treat; although major progress has been made in understanding HCC risk factors, the molecular mechanisms that initiate and promote HCC are poorly understood, particularly in children.
Debanjan Dhar, PhD at the University of California, San Diego is currently conducting a study to isolate and purify HCC stem cells in early tumors, even before nodules are visible. Cancer stem cells (CSC) are known to play a role in the development, growth, and spread of cancer, as well as in the cancer becoming resistant to treatment or recurring. Dr. Dhar is studying the role of a specific protein, CD44, in the creation of HCC and investigating the molecular mechanisms that are regulated by CD44 during the development of liver tumors. CD44 is a cancer stem cell marker and is important for HCC growth. Dr. Dhar hypothesizes that CD44 expression prevents tumor progenitor cells from dying and orchestrates important signals that tell the cells to become cancerous. He hopes that understanding the function and regulation of CD44 in HCC will generate new knowledge and help develop novel therapeutic targets for this cancer.
As of the conclusion of his CureSearch-funded project, Dr. Dhar has identified new promising therapeutic options for HCC:
- 3 drugs in preclinical testing
- 1 novel compound developed
- 3 pharmaceutical company collaborations initiated