NanoString Technologies has secured an option to an exclusive worldwide licence for a 186-gene signature that could determine the prognosis of patients diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common type of liver cancer, or hepatitis C-related early-stage cirrhosis.

The option was awarded by US-based nonprofit research group the Broad Institute, whose chief scientific officer Todd Golub invented the gene signature, along with experts from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and other research facilities in Massachusetts and Spain.

According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2008, the gene signature identifies those HCC patients who have a poor prognosis because of a high rate of recurrence after initial treatment.

This gene signature was highly correlated with survival in 82 Japanese patients and was validated in an independent set of 225 patients from the US and Europe.

A separate paper recently published online in Gastroenterology demonstrated that the same group of genes identifies those patients with hepatitis C-related early-stage cirrhosis who have a poor prognosis because of their high rate of developing HCC.

Co-inventor of the gene signature Joseph Llovet said, "By identifying those HCC patients who are at the greatest risk of recurrence, doctors may choose to monitor these patients more regularly or to enter them into clinical trials in the adjuvant setting to reduce the risk of HCC recurrence."

NanoString now plans to assess the feasibility of developing an in vitro diagnostic assay based on the HCC gene signature for use on its nCounter Analysis System, which is able to profile up to 800 molecules simultaneously.

Image: A 186-gene signature is able to identify liver cancer patients with the greatest risk of recurrance. Image courtesy of