A Novel Blood-Based Panel of Methylated DNA and Protein Markers for Detection of Early-Stage Hepatocellular Carcinoma

Naga P. Chalasani, Tiruvidaimarudur S. Ramasubramanian, Abhik Bhattacharya, Marilyn C. Olson, David K. Edwards V, Lewis R. Roberts, John B. Kisiel, K. Rajender Reddy, Graham P. Lidgard, Scott C. Johnson, Janelle J. Bruinsma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


Background & Aims: Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) can be treated effectively if detected at an early stage. Recommended surveillance strategies for at-risk patients include ultrasound with or without α-fetoprotein (AFP), but their sensitivity is suboptimal. We sought to develop a novel, blood-based biomarker panel with improved sensitivity for early-stage HCC detection. Methods: In a multicenter, case-control study, we collected blood specimens from patients with HCC and age-matched controls with underlying liver disease but without HCC. Ten previously reported methylated DNA markers (MDMs) associated with HCC, methylated B3GALT6 (reference DNA marker), and 3 candidate proteins, including AFP, were assayed and analyzed by a logistic regression algorithm to predict HCC cases. The accuracy of the multi-target HCC panel was compared with that of other blood-based biomarkers for HCC detection. Results: The study included 135 HCC cases and 302 controls. We identified a multi-target HCC panel of 3 MDMs (HOXA1, EMX1, and TSPYL5), B3GALT6 and 2 protein markers (AFP and AFP-L3) with a higher sensitivity (71%, 95% CI: 60–81%) at 90% specificity for early-stage HCC than the GALAD score (41%, 95% CI: 30–53%) or AFP ≥7.32 ng/mL (45%, 95% CI: 33–57%). The AUC for the multi-target HCC panel for detecting any stage HCC was 0.92 compared with 0.87 for the GALAD score and 0.81 for AFP alone. The panel performed equally well in important subgroups based on liver disease etiology, presence of cirrhosis, or sex. Conclusions: We developed a novel, blood-based biomarker panel that demonstrates high sensitivity for early-stage HCC. These data support the potential for liquid biopsy detection of early-stage HCC to clinically benefit at-risk patients. This study was registered on ClinicalTrials.gov (NCT03628651).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2597-2605.e4
JournalClinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Carcinoma
  • Hepatocellular/Prevention and Control
  • Liquid Biopsy
  • Liver Cirrhosis/Complications
  • Liver Neoplasms


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