2010 News Stories

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Nobel laureate Baruch Blumberg, MD, PhDHepatitis B is one of the primary causes of liver cancer, which often goes undetected until it is too late. It is the sixth most prevalent cancer and the third most common cause of cancer death. Hawai’i has the highest incidence of hepatitis in the U.S., with 10.3 cases per 100,000 per year and a death rate of 7.9 per 100,000.

The Queen's Medical Center and the Cancer Research Center of Hawai’i (CRCH) recently sponsored a conference to address liver cancer (hepatocellular cancer, or HCC) and the Hepatitis B virus (HBV). The conference, "Hepatitis B Virus and the Prevention and Control of Liver Cancer," featured Baruch Blumberg, MD, PhD, of the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Dr. Blumberg discovered the Hepatitis B virus in 1967 and developed a vaccine in 1969, saving millions of lives around the world. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine for his work.

Soon after the HBV discovery, the publication of the hypothesis of the etiological association of HBV with liver cancer were reported. Within a few years, HBV transmission from blood transfusions had virtually disappeared where donor blood was routinely tested. There has since been a worldwide drop in HBV infections, the prevalence of HBV carriers, and liver cancer. For example, HBV carriers dropped from 16.3 percent to 1.43 percent in the southern part of China. In Italy, the rates fell from 10.5 percent to 0.8 percent. Two billion worldwide were once infected with HBV; today, there are about 400 million carriers. "Major targets have already been met and it is likely that there will be continued improvement, and possibly eradication," noted Dr. Blumberg.

At the conference, Dr. Blumberg was honored with the Aumakua Award by the American Cancer Society, and was the inaugural speaker of the newly established Weinman Foundation Innovator in Cancer Research fund at the CRCH. The $1.7 million fund makes it possible for the CRCH to invite prominent leaders in cancer research to Hawai’i every year. These globally-recognized experts will be selected for their work in cancer research and its successful translation into therapy and care. Michele Carbone, MD, PhD, Director of the CRCH, also announced the inauguration of a new liver cancer research team led by Linda Wong, MD, of the CRCH. Plans include recruitment of other scientists to find new ways to prevent and control liver cancer in Hawai’i.

Earlier intervention through community-wide screening for Hepatitis B and providing blood tests for Hepatitis B were also discussed. "Hawai’i has excellent medical and public health systems and a well-educated patient population," said Dr. Blumberg. "The Cancer Research Center of Hawai’i is in a position to continue and enlarge its program for the prevention and control of HCC. In addition, it could become a leading institution for the study of other virus-caused cancers."

 

Photo Caption:
Nobel laureate Baruch Blumberg, MD, PhD, addresses the audience at a conference on hepatitis B and liver cancer in Hawai’i.

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