dr. Nicky Somers (MD)

CRIG member
Nicky Somers

Doctoral fellow – Hepatology Research Unit, Department Internal Medicine and Paediatrics; Liver Research Center Ghent, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium
Specialist in training in Internal Medicine – Gastroenterology & Hepatology UZ Gent
Principal investigator: prof. Hans Van Vlierberghe (MD, PhD) 


Research focus

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the second leading cause of cancer-related mortality worldwide for which, in case of advanced disease, the current standard therapy has limited survival benefit. Early diagnosis and correct estimation of prognosis is crucial.
In this era of personalized medicine, there is a need for a new generation of biomarkers that can provide a correct estimation of prognosis when a certain treatment strategy is being considered and there is a need for biomarkers that can monitor closely the response upon treatment and early relapse after treatment. There are strong arguments to support the hypothesis that glycomics-based biomarkers could answer this medical need. Glycosylation of serum proteins is the most frequent posttranslational modification observed in the human body and alterations in this protein glycosylation has been extensively linked to cancer development. Specific glycomic alterations described as increased fucosylation and presence of multi-branched glycans can be easily measured in serum and are present in patients with HCC. Preliminary data indicate that specific glycomic changes are related to outcome after treatment of HCC, and thus could be the basis for prognostic biomarkers. The rationale supports also the hypothesis that glycomic changes occur during response to treatment of HCC and relapse, and thus could be the basis for a biomarker that can monitor disease activity.
The aim of this interventional study (retrospective and prospective) is to develop 2 biomarkers. One that can predict outcome before treatment for HCC is started. The other one to monitor successful treatment and early relapse after treatment. Both biomarkers could radically change the approach of HCC patients. 
First of all, we could prevent the use of futile treatments if before the start of the treatment the biomarker could tell us that the disease will not respond to treatment. In that case, the clinician can opt for another and better treatment strategy. Furthermore, this can prevent unnessecary toxicity for the patient and reduce the costs of treatment. Treatment regimens include liver transplantation, tumor resection, loco-regional therapies such as ablation-trans arterial chemo- or radio embolisation, systemic therapy (eg. sorafenib) or best supportive care. 
Second, we could monitor early relapse of HCC, before clinical imaging can show the relapse. This can lead to an important gain in time, providing a window of opportunity for treatment shift in a very early disease stage, which cannot be achieved today . 


I am a medical doctor, with an extensive interest in oncology. This predilection grew out of my previous career as a nurse, where I spent 6 years caring for oncology patients during their surgical treatment. 
I am delighted to complement my specialization training in Internal Medicine with the doctoral training on Hepatocellular Carcinoma and additional courses in palliative medicine and advisory medicine for end-of-life decisions (LEIF)

Contact & links

Lab address: Hepatology Research Unit, Campus UZ Gent – Building B – entrance 36, Corneel Heymanslaan 10, 9000 Ghent Belgium