Liver cancer researcher Dr Abir Arfaoui named latest Brave Fellow

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Tell us about your research project.

Fibrolamellar carcinoma is characterized by a chimeric protein called DNAJ-PKA which exists on all cancer cells. A chimeric protein is a fusion between two proteins on chromosome 19. This chimeric protein has been shown to be the main driver of FLC. However, the mechanism by which the chimeric FLC protein induces tumor growth remains unknown. The objective of my research is therefore to determine the signaling pathways that lead to the growth and proliferation of tumors in FLC, and to develop an effective treatment.

What makes me excited about this project is the possibility of turning a chemo-resistant disease into one that offers several treatment options, thus bringing hope for a cure to people who suffer from this disease.

What challenges have you overcome to pursue a scientific career?

I have been passionate about science since I was young, and I knew exactly that I wanted to be a research scientist. Thus, after having completed my master’s degree in Tunisia, my dream was to travel abroad, to acquire new skills and to work in a renowned laboratory. But the first hurdle was finding the perfect lab and a scholarship, as my family didn’t have the money to pay for study and travel expenses.

I spent a whole year looking for labs, submitting my application and looking for a scholarship. And unfortunately my first attempts were unsuccessful. So I kept looking until I found a doctorate. program, a collaborative project between Tunisia and France. I traveled to France with a scholarship offered by the Tunisian state. However, this scholarship is only offered for six months per academic year. So I had limited time to do this job. When I arrived in France, I made a very detailed plan for six months, and I worked very hard to complete what I had planned to do. And after the six months, I delivered several results that other students could deliver in a year or even a year and a half. So my French mentor was very happy and offered me a scholarship for the following year.

My dream was to be part of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. So I applied for a postdoctoral position here and I’m so happy it worked. Everything is possible because when you truly believe in yourself and work for it, there are no limits. You will achieve what you dreamed of.

What next steps in your science does your new Brave scholarship make possible?

In our preliminary study, we identified a promising drug treatment that decreases the growth of fibrolamellar carcinoma cells in laboratory dishes. For the next step, we will test the effect of this drug on human samples, to assess its effectiveness in reducing cell growth and FLC proliferation in a more complex living system.

I am so excited and grateful for this opportunity, and it is an honor for me to represent the Brave Like Gabe Foundation.


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