Early career researchers like Alzhraa Alkhatib (pictured right) are spearheading research efforts in Egypt in the detection, diagnosis and reduction of liver cancer rates. ©

Alzhraa Alkhatib

1 October 2020

October is Liver Cancer Awareness Month

Liver cancer is the sixth most common cancer worldwide, with 840,000 new cases in 2018 alone. Until 2016, Egypt had the highest rate of hepatitis C infection in the world and second highest rate of liver cancer in 2018 (World Cancer Research Fund).

Supporting liver cancer researchers through the Newton-Mosharafa Fund

The Newton-Mosharafa Fund is £50 million, seven-year science and innovation partnership between the UK and Egypt, bringing together the British and Egyptian scientific research and innovation sectors to find joint solutions to the challenges facing Egypt in economic development and social welfare.

Egypt faces significant risk factors for adult primary liver cancer due to high prevalence of hepatitis B and C, and cirrhosis. Liver cancer patients represent 23 per cent of total registered cancer cases in Egypt.

Through the support of the Newton-Mosharafa Fund, Egyptian researchers - both at the individual and institutional level - are boosting efforts in the detection, diagnosis and reduction of liver cancer rates. Its funded PhD programme enables Egyptian doctoral-level scholars to benefit from placements at leading UK research institutions.

Shifting the paradigm of early detection of liver cancer

With a medical degree focused on early detection, Alzhraa Alkhatib was able to further specialise her training thanks to the Newton-Mosharafa PhD programme. Alzhraa undertook a one-year placement at the UK’s Imperial College - a leading centre for cancer research - working with some of the most experienced scientists in the field.

Alzhraa’s journey did not stop there; this opportunity qualified her to work on a collaborative project funded by the Newton-Mosharafa programme focusing on the use of novel biomarker for diagnosis and early detection of liver cancer –  a shared vital research topic between Egypt’s National Liver institute and Imperial College.

The result of this joint effort was very promising for a practical, cost-effective and easy-to-use diagnostic test, expected to lead to a paradigm shift in early detection of liver cancer globally.

Finding biomarkers to halt the progression of liver cancer

Marco Youssef is another beneficiary of the Newton-Mosharafa programme who is accelerating liver cancer research efforts in Egypt, bolstered by his UK experience and funding.  ©

Marco Youssef

Originally enrolled at Egypt’s Minia University, Marco Youssef came to the UK to complete his doctoral research at Newcastle University – a leading institution with a reputation in tackling chronic liver diseases.

Through his project on the liver micro-environment, Marco and his fellow researchers are finding ways to halt its progression by finding biomarkers in the blood and 3D modelling.

Marco’s objectives are to understand how the immune system drives liver cancer and then aims to transfer these skills back to Egypt to set up a liver cancer laboratory.

In recognition of such promising results and outcomes, Marco’s project has been shortlisted for the Newton Prize 2020, worth up £200,000.

If the project wins, Marco plans to use the funds to establish the Egyptian NILE CAN basic science laboratory to provide immediate first-hand assistance in the research field to young scientists in Upper Egypt. NILE CAN will also set up a biobank of samples from chronically ill cancer patients to further research in chronic illnesses around the world.

Marco’s shortlisting comes after he successfully initiated a strong partnership between the two universities through the first joint master of science research project.

Since studying in the UK, Marco has succeeded in pushing for a collaborative project between Minia and Newcastle universities on the characterisation of novel blood immune predictors of liver cancer development in fatty liver patients, and the joint research will be published soon.

The Newton Prize 2020 winners will be announced at a virtual awards event in November.

Find out more about British Council-delivered Newton Fund projects and opportunities.

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