Research Sheds Light on Liver Cancer Pathway

Diane DeZwaan ’05 is conducting cancer research in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. She is one of the authors of a research article whose impact of has been much larger than expected. The article, which appears in the journal PLOS/Genetics, is titled “The Stress-Regulated Transcription Factor CHOP Promotes Hepatic Inflammatory Gene Expression, Fibrosis, and Oncogenesis.” Her research provides evidence of a chain of events that leads to the formation of liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma, or HCC), the third most common cause of cancer death worldwide. Liver cancer is most commonly caused by viral hepatitis, alcoholism, or obesity, all of which activate cell stress in the liver. DeZwaan’s research may be the first that links  elements of this stress response–specifically the expression of a stress-regulated transcription factor called CHOP–to the appearance of cancerous tumors in the liver.  The research also showed that exposure (in mice) to a tumor-causing agent when CHOP is absent results in fewer tumors and less cell death. The findings of the research establish CHOP as a biological marker for liver cancer and showed its importance in promoting liver tumor formation. It’s possible that the genesis of tumors by CHOP is a common feature of liver cancer. The research raises intriguing questions that require additional research, which may lead to important new insights into the development of liver cancer. The editors of the magazine were so taken by the potential of the work that they contributed a perspectives article (“The Integrated Stress Response in HCC: Not Just CHOPped Liver”) on it. Television and print media outlets in Iowa have published stories on DeZwaan’s research. As an undergraduate at K DeZwaan majored in biology, studied abroad in Australia, and played on the Hornet basketball team.