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New AI offers hope for liver cancer patients

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Researchers at King’s College Hospital and Queen Mary University of London have found that a new computer-based algorithm can rank drugs used to treat primary liver cancer, based on their efficacy in reducing cancer cell growth.

The algorithm, named Drug Ranking Using Machine Learning (DRUML), was previously designed to identify effective treatments for patients diagnosed with cancers.

The researchers trained DRUML at Queen Mary’s Barts Cancer Institute in London to identify and rank how cell lines from a range of cancers respond to more than 400 drugs, by examining data on the presence of dysregulated (overactive or underactive) proteins.

The new algorithm was developed following analysis of cells and tumours donated from patients across the world.

This is the first time this machine learning method has been used to identify potential new treatments for bile duct cancer, a type of primary liver cancer.

Dr Shirin E Khorsandi, clinical researcher at King’s College Hospital and lead researcher, said doctors will be able to utilise the new technology to predict individual patient responses to therapies and prescribe the most effective treatment plan.

“The work that we undertook relied on the generosity of patients and their families, who consented to donating their tumour tissue to the King’s Liver Biobank and raised money for this research.

“This study, we believe, represents a significant advancement in artificial intelligence and further patient involvement and participation will ensure that we have an algorithm that captures the best drugs for multiple variations of liver cancer.

“While this approach is still in its infancy, we are optimistic that the application of artificial intelligence to tackling one of the hardest to treat cancers, can transform how liver cancers are diagnosed and treated by clinicians in the future.”

Liver cancer affects 6,200 people in the UK each year. The disease can often be left undetected, as patients do not experience symptoms early on. Even when it is detected at an early stage, the five-year survival rate following diagnosis is less than 13 per cent.

Bile duct cancer, also known as cholangiocarcinoma (CCA), is a type of primary liver cancer that arises from cells in the liver known as cholangiocytes.

Professor Pedro Cutillas, researcher at Queen Mary University of London, said: “Patients who are diagnosed with primary liver cancer often have a very poor prognosis. Cancers of the bile duct, in particular, exhibit great variation in their protein expression and characteristics from patient to patient.

“This variation results in patients displaying different responses to therapy. Hence why a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment is not the most effective way to reduce cancer cell growth and why we applied DRUML to this type of cancer.

”The research, which was funded by King’s College Hospital Charity and Queen Mary Innovation, was published in Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association of Cancer Research.

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