Liver Cancer Research

At the Center of Excellence for Liver and Bile Duct Cancer at Mount Sinai, we believe that high-quality care and advanced research go hand in hand. Scientists have made great progress in treating liver and bile duct cancer. But we still have a long way to go. Research is the key to improving diagnosis and treatment. 

Under the leadership of Josep Llovet, MD, PhD, our liver cancer laboratory has defined many of the molecular mechanisms underlying liver cancer. Dr. Llovet is a leading authority on designing and running clinical trials in liver cancer. He has worked with major drug companies in developing new drug treatments. He was instrumental in developing sorafenib, the first medicine shown to make people with liver cancer live longer. Our research has been published in more than 1,000 articles in peer-reviewed journals. These publications include The New England Journal of Medicine, Nature, The Lancet, Cancer Cell, Nature Genetics, and Nature Reviews Disease Primers.

Our Research Team

Our research team encompasses highly experienced and accomplished researchers:

  • Scott Friedman, MD, is Chief of the Division of Liver Diseases. He studies the pathogenesis of hepatic fibrosis and its relationship to liver cancer. Dr. Friedman’s laboratory has developed animal and cell culture models of fatty liver disease and cancer. These help us understand how hepatic stellate cells lead to liver cancer. Dr. Friedman is also researching ways to pinpoint new treatment targets. As Dean for Therapeutic Discovery at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Dr. Friedman works with several biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies to test the effectiveness of new drugs for liver fibrosis and cancer.
  • Karyn Goodman, MD, MS, is Associate Director for Clinical Research and Deirdre Cohen, MD, is Medical Director of the Cancer Clinical Trials Office in The Tisch Cancer Institute. Both Dr. Goodman and Dr. Cohen treat many patients with liver and bile duct cancer, and they are leading many clinical trials exploring new drugs and other treatments. 
  • Augusto Villanueva, MD, PhD, is a physician-scientist focused on translating research findings into clinical trials. He has helped develop biomarkers, which help us diagnose cancer earlier and can also guide treatment decisions. 

Immunotherapy Research

Immunotherapy has revolutionized how we treat cancer. It helps patients live longer. And it has fewer side effects than other approaches. At Mount Sinai, we are working to expand immunotherapy options. Our goal is to have many more patients benefit from this approach. 

Our researchers in immunotherapy include:

  • Thomas Marron, MD, PhD, leads the Early Phase Trial Unit at The Tisch Cancer Institute. Dr. Marron is studying how immunotherapy can help liver cancer patients at all stages of disease. A key goal is to prevent cancer recurrence after remission. 
  • Miriam Merad, MD, PhD, directs Mount Sinai’s Precision Immunology Institute. The institute is studying tumors removed from patients treated with immunotherapy. This will help us better understand how the immune system recognizes and kills tumors. Dr. Merad and her research team aim to learn why the immune system does not always kill the tumor. The goal is to make this approach work for all cancer patients. Dr. Merad also co-leads the Cancer Immunology program in The Tisch Cancer Institute

Our Research Labs

Our research labs are exploring the fundamental causes and features of liver and bile duct cancers. Each lab has a team of highly experienced and skilled researchers. 

The laboratory of Andrea Branch, PhD, studies viral hepatitis and its consequences, including HCC. Dr. Branch has shown that African Americans with HCC tend to have better liver function but more aggressive cancers than others. She has also shown that men, African Americans, and people without health insurance are less likely to have routine check-ups to look for liver cancer, even though they are the groups whose risk of cancer is the highest. 

The laboratory of Ernesto Guccione, PhD, explores weaknesses in cancer cells. The goal is to use these weaknesses to attack cancer cells while keeping healthy cells safe. Dr. Guccione uses organoids, which are miniature livers created in the laboratory from tissue samples removed during biopsies or surgery. He uses these organoids to test new drugs and other treatments safely and rapidly, looking for those that can kill tumors while keeping healthy cells safe. Dr. Guccione is the scientific co-founder of ImmuNOA, an early-stage biotechnology company. The company designs, develops, and tests new RNA-therapeutic agents that can help to eliminate cancer. 

The laboratory of Amaia Lujambio, PhD, studies how liver cancer starts and grows. Dr. Lujambio uses genetic engineering to encourage mice to grow cancers that resemble human cancers. She tests new liver treatments on these mice. Recently, she discovered that a drug called palbociclib can help certain patients (Gut). She also uses her mice to study why liver cancer is able to evade the immune system, and how to help the immune system recognize and destroy the cancer

The laboratory of Daniela Sia, PhD, studies cholangiocarcinoma and gallbladder cancer on a molecular level. Dr Sia has been able to show how genetic differences in cancer cells and the surrounding tissues affect the behavior of the cancer. Her work has led to a number of developments including: