Medical student receives international award for liver transplant research

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 July, 2007, 12:00am

A Hong Kong medical student has become the first recipient of an international award for his research into one of the causes of the high tumour recurrence rate in liver transplant patients who had received grafts from living donors.

Kendrick Shih Hoi-dik, who is 21, and his mentor, Kwan Man at the University of Hong Kong, were one of six winning teams this year and the only one from Asia to receive the Rising Star award from the International Liver Transplantation Society.

Recent studies had found a higher tumour recurrence rate in living donor liver grafts compared with transplants from dead people. Mr Shih, who conducted research for his masters degree of research in medicine, set out to find the cause for this phenomenon.

Due to the lack of liver donors in Hong Kong, each year fewer than 20 liver transplants are carried out with organs from people who have died. About 50 to 70 transplant surgeries each year are conducted with liver grafts, usually donated by relatives. The size is about 40 to 60 per cent of the original size of the recipient liver.

A 22 per cent cancer recurrence rate was found among patients who had received liver graft transplants, while those who received grafts from dead donors was nil.

Mr Shih, who used a rat liver transplantation model for his experiments, found a gene, IP10, which promoted the invasive properties of cancer cells in small grafts.

The gene, a type of protein which helps white blood cells resume normal levels in damaged livers, was found to promote tumour cell migration and activity.

'We found in a lab setting that if you put cancer cells in IP10, it will grow arms and moves faster. It moves at about 10 times the normal rate. This makes the cancer cells spread faster,' Mr Shih said.

Dr Kwan said the finding had important implications for the future of living donor liver transplant as this could help the development of strategies to minimise tumour recurrence such as using medication to suppress the growth of IP10.

Mr Shih's supervisor and chair professor of the university's department of surgery, Lo Chung-man, described Mr Shih's achievement as remarkable. 'Most students just want to graduate and become a doctor as soon as possible. But Kendrick was willing to make this sacrifice and take a year out.'

Mr Shih said he planned to find a job in Hong Kong upon graduation.