Liver cancer treatment may come from California teenager's research

The Sacramento BeeApril 15, 2011 

Mira Loma High School's drill team captain is trying to develop a new treatment for liver cancer.

Selena Li, 17, has completed research that could offer an alternative to chemotherapy or transplant for liver cancer patients.

She found that by combining chloroquine – generally used against malaria – and a cancer drug, cancer cells in the liver are less likely to survive. The findings are expected to be published this summer in a scientific journal, Li said.

The teen said she was interested in doing the research because patients with liver cancer have a survival rate of less than 10 percent over five years. "It will definitely help," she said of her findings.

Li has spent thousands of hours over the past four years in a lab at UC Davis Medical Center doing cancer research.

"Her dedication to her work on cancer is amazing," said Austin Changou, a graduate student overseeing her research.

He said the treatment discovered by Li holds the promise of replacing chemotherapy and sparing cancer patients the suffering that accompanies it. This treatment targets cancer cells and spares normal cells, Changou said.

He said that if the research is borne out in clinical trials, it will be a significant breakthrough and could translate to treating other cancers.

On Tuesday, Li was pouring liquids from one beaker to another at a workstation in a closet-like room in the prostate cancer lab of Research Building III at the medical center. The teen in skinny jeans, a blue T-shirt and red flats stood out among the older university researchers in white lab coats.

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