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VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System

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Stopping Cancer Before It Starts

Portrait of Dr. Obaid Shaikh standing in a hospital hallway.

Dr. Obaid Shaikh is reenergizing 50 years of stalled science to help prevent liver cancer in Veterans.

By Valerie C. Coughanour
Monday, May 19, 2014

Dr. Obaid Shaikh, VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System's director of transplantation medicine, is a man with a mission.

Last year, his department placed 44 livers and 44 kidneys in patients who desperately needed them. Veterans with kidney disease or liver cancer. Veterans who may not have survived otherwise. To them, he's a lifesaver.

But Shaikh's mission isn't limited to the operating room. His research, which looks at why some Veterans with liver diseases develop liver cancer whereas others do not, is aiming to see if a simple blood test can predict a patient's risk for liver cancer. If so, doctors might be able to intervene well before a transplant—or another drastic medical intervention—is even necessary.

"The prospect that we could take away that burden of disease is exciting," he says of the project. "Using genomic tools, we can predict the cancer even before it develops."

With this information, doctors could aggressively treat Veterans at risk. And there's a need, says Shaikh. Nationally, the incidence of hepatitis C—a precursor to liver cancer—is nearly four times higher for Veterans than it is for the average American.

"When you realize liver disease is the 11th leading cause of death in the U.S., the impact on Veterans is dramatic," he says.

Dramatic—definitely. And all part of a day's work for Shaikh and his colleagues at VA Pittsburgh.

For more information contact:

Shelley Nulph
VA Pittsburgh Public Affairs

About Research at VA Pittsburgh
VA Pittsburgh's $35 million research program supports 119 scientists and 334 active studies. Researchers tackle a wide range of topics—everything from post-traumatic stress disorder to lung cancer—with one razor-sharp focus: enhancing hero-worthy care for our Nation's Veterans.


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