Thailand study explores cancer risk of eating raw fish

Traditional fisherman

Scientists from the University of Liverpool are joining forces with Khon Kaen University in Thailand to investigate how a parasitic infection in fish increases the risk of liver inflammation and cancer in local village communities.

Opisthorchiasis is a parasitic disease caused by the liver fluke Opisthorchis viverrini. It is a disease of poor communities and is endemic in northeastern Thailand and the neighbouring Mekong region, where there is a heavy reliance on fishing for food or income generation.

Many of these fish are infected with O. viverrini, and if eaten raw or undercooked liver fluke infection can occur. This infection can lead to inflammation of the bile ducts and many patients will then go on to develop bile duct cancer.

High risk individuals

Professor Steve Edwards and Dr Helen Wright from the University’s Institute of Integrative Biology have been awarded an Institutional Links grant by the Newton Fund to carry out a joint research project and facilitate staff and student exchanges between both universities. Two MBiolSci students, Charlotte Price and Edward Spofford, will work on this project in Khon Kaen. They will work alongside Professor Banchob Sripa, who is head of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Research and Control of Opisthorchiasis at Khon Kaen University.

The team will investigate the innate immune responses in patients with opisthorchiasis and healthy controls to determine if this can predict ‘high risk’ individuals who are likely to develop liver cancer following infections.

A One Health approach will also be used to decrease rates of liver fluke infection in Kalasin Province in Northeast Thailand. This tried and tested approach, which has already reduced infection rates elsewhere in Thailand, uses anthelmintic treatment alongside education programmes in schools and local communities.

Making an impact

Professor Edwards said: “We are very excited to become involved in this important project that affects the health, well-being and livelihood of inhabitants of this economically-challenged area.

“This project is likely to have a significant impact on the villagers of this area who rely on the wetlands for their livelihoods and it could save many lives. It is also a fantastic opportunity for our students to get involved and make an active contribution to this important health and economic problem.”

The Newton Fund project is jointly funded by the British Council and the Office of the Higher Education Commission in Thailand.

For more information and further updates about the Newton Fund please visit the UK government’s website. Full details of all calls are on the Newton pages of the UK HE Internationalisation Unit website. Staff can contact Claire Kidman at the University’s International Development Office for further advice and guidance.

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