Saturday, December 12, 2009

Buddhist Medicine in Hualien

This just in from Taiwan Today -- very meaningful to me, as I have a close family member currently undergoing treatment at the named institution -- but also meaningful to all of us. The Tzu Chi Hospital is a Buddhist hospital.

"Hu Chi-tang, director of Tzu Chi Hospital's Liver Diseases Research Center in Hualien, eastern Taiwan, has received a special award for his research on ways of inhibiting liver cancer.

Hu was awarded this year's Special Research Prize by the 2009 Asia-Pacific Digestive Medicine Week, sponsored by the Gastroenterological Society of Taiwan, for a paper on the interactions between snail genes in liver cancer cells and other transcription factors. His work was chosen from entries from approximately 40 Asian nations and areas.

Since 1986, liver cancer has been the number-one killer of adult males in Taiwan, and the second most common cause of death among women, Hu said. Eighty percent of adult liver cancers are caused by infections of the liver during childhood. If hepatitis could be diagnosed and treated early, the success rate in curing the disease might be higher. But if the disease becomes chronic, there is risk of fibrous changes to the liver, cirrhosis or cancer.

The troublesome thing about detecting liver disease is that the liver has no nerves, so it is a "silent organ." Its storage capacity is also very great, so that as much as 80 percent of a normal liver can be removed without endangering the patient's life.

Since the founding of the research center, teams have worked with Dr. Wu Wen-sheng of the Tzuchi University Department of Medical Technology and other physicians to unravel the molecular bases of liver cancer. After three years of intensive work, they discovered that two things would cut off cancerous changes – the snail transcription factor and activated oxygen. Both acted on target sites in the liver or through genetic therapy.

The snail transcription factor is thought to be a key to the transcription of malignant liver tumors. Sometimes called the "snail gene," it is thought to be a "switch" to transcription activity in the liver. This switch controls the expression of a number of genes, which can simultaneously halt the transcription and growth of human liver cells. For example, the snail gene can "turn on" the P15INK4b gene to inhibit the cellular cycle.

To discover whether or not the snail gene has been initiated, it was necessary to take a slice of liver tumor and conduct a molecular examination of the gene cells in the laboratory. Once an excessive value had been found, researchers knew that the switch had been turned on.

To turn it off, they had to use genetic therapy. They found a sequence in reverse to that of the snail gene, and inserted it into the gene, blocking its expression and achieving therapeutic effects. The research project is still underway at the hospital, and once animal studies are successful, it will herald great news in the fight against human cancers."

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