The brilliant researchers in GMRF’s Liver Cancer Unit are working together to fight the fastest increasing cause of cancer mortality in the country. Newest addition Lu Cao joined the team in 2018 as a Research Assistant and has set her sights on a very aggressive form of primary liver cancer; cholangiocarcinoma. She recently shared an update on where she’s at with her research:

Most people wouldn’t have heard of cholangiocarcinoma – what is it?
Cholangiocarcinoma, known as bile duct cancer, is a type of cancer that forms in the bile ducts. It is the second most common type of primary liver cancer.

How big an issue is it?
Currently it’s quite rare, but the rate is rising. It is usually diagnosed in advanced stages which means it has limited therapeutic options. Survival is around just 12 months in most cases. There is a big gap between effective treatments currently available and the level of need. The development of better treatments is urgently required.

So how will your research help the situation?
I’m investigating the interrelationship between cancer stem cells, immune modulators and metastasis. Cancer stem cells or CSCs represent the most malignant population of cells that are the drivers of tumour initiation, growth and
metastasis. This research theme aims to identify how CSCs avoid immune responses and spread to a distant location, and evaluate methods to kill these cells.

What steps are required to progress this work?
First we need to enrich CSCs from other regular cancer cells, a tricky process in itself. Then we’ll study their functions and behaviour, and determine the best gene ID to identify CSCs, as well as the essential modulator that endow CSCs with
the ability to escape chemotherapy. We’ll use “blockers” to inactivate these targets in order to eliminate CSCs.

What motivated you to become a cancer researcher?
Before moving to Australia from my home in China, I had done some work in liver cancer. The CSC theory on which my work is based has provided an important conceptual framework for understanding tumour progression and treatment. I am excited for the opportunity to contribute to furthering our understanding and opening new windows of attack against liver cancer.

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