A team of researchers from the College of Design and Engineering, the N.1 Institute for Health and the Cancer Science Institute of Singapore at the National University of Singapore has recently engineered in vitro tumour models to better understand the crosstalk between liver cancer cells and their microenvironment. Using lab-grown mini liver tumours co-cultured with endothelial cells – these are cells that form the lining of blood vessels – to conduct their study, the research team investigated the role of endothelial cells in liver cancer progression.
“The conventional understanding is that endothelial cells are structural cells that form blood vessels. Our latest findings suggest that these cells also give ‘instructions’ to liver cancer cells to increase the production of a protein called CXCL1, which is associated with poor survival outcome in liver cancer patients,” explained Assistant Professor Eliza Fong, who led the research study.
CXCL1 is a type of chemokine, which are signalling proteins secreted by cells to regulate the infiltration of different immune cells into tumours. Hence, these molecules affect tumour immunity and may influence therapeutic outcomes in patients.
“Our results pave the way for new therapeutic targets to control tumour development, and further our team’s understanding of the mechanisms behind the progression of liver cancer,” Dr. Toh Tan Boon added, who is also a key member of the research team.
The team’s results were published in the journal Biomaterials on 16 April 2022.