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Dr Wai Liu

Senior Research Fellow
Dr Liu's work focuses on developing novel approaches against cancer.

Dr Wai Liu is a Senior Research Fellow at St George's. His work focuses on developing novel approaches against cancer. These involve modifications to drug regimens as a way of enhancing the overall activity of chemotherapy.

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Dr Wai Liu received his PhD in Medical Oncology from St Bartholomew’s Hospital, University of London in 2001. During this time he developed models to assess the effect of combining chemotherapies with other treatment modalities as a way to enhancing activity. Dr Liu has worked in a cancer research environment for over twenty years. He is a prominent scientist in the field of cannabinoid research, which is an area he has actively engaged for over fifteen years. His team was the first to demonstrate a benefit in combining cannabinoids and irradiation in models of brain cancer. Other interests of Dr Liu has been to develop new combination strategies that utilise re-purposed agents. These have included naltrexone, artemisinins and the IMiDs. He has also investigated ways in enhancing anticancer activity by modifying the pathological associations between immune and tumour cells by using immune-targeting drugs. He has over 50 publications in the field on cancer research, and worked in collaborations with pharma including GW Pharma, Celgene, AstraZeneca and Novartis to develop new agents and to perform pre-clinical work. A number of these have continued successfully into Phase I and II trials. He is regularly contacted by the media for his opinions on cannabinoids as a cancer treatment.

Dr Liu joined St George’s in 2007, working with Professor Angus Dalgleish investigating the role of the immune modulatory drugs IMiDs as anticancer agents.

Dr Liu obtained his PhD in Medical Oncology and Clinical Pharmacology from St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, and lead small research groups as a research fellow at St Bartholomew’s and at the Institute of Cancer Research.

His current projects include:

  • Investigating the immune-modifying effects of chemotherapy

  • Cannabinoids and their potential anti-cancer properties

  • The IMiDs in combination with other treatment modalities such as artemisinins and mycobacteria as anti-cancer agents

  • The anticancer effects of naltrexone.

Dr Liu's work has focused on developing new approaches to tackling cancer. Two main themes include developing new treatment strategies for pre-existing drugs that exploit unique combination regimens, and identifying and exploiting anticancer compounds. This approach has led to a number of successful areas of research. These include the following:

The immune-modulatory effects of common chemotherapy such as gemcitabine and oxaliplatin

Dr Liu has been interested in how drugs alter immune responses. More importantly, he has shown how tumours treated with certain drugs respond by communicating in different ways with cells of the immune system. Tumour cells are able to produce bioactive substances that impact upon dendritic cell and T-cell responses, and Dr Liu has shown that chemotherapies can negate these pro-cancerous effects. These works have resulted in several publications and also inspired a PhD studentship.

The use of artemisinins in combination with chemotherapy as a form of cancer treatment

The antimalarial class of drugs called the artemisinins possess anticancer properties by dint of their interactions on the cell cycle. Dr Liu has shown that compounds from this class of chemical can work much better when either combined with pre-existing drugs such as lenalidomide and gemcitabine, or when treatment schedules are altered to include “drug-recovery” phases.

The use of cannabinoids in combination with irradiation as a treatment of brain cancer

Dr Liu has worked on the anticancer properties when he led a small research group at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in 2001. Anecdotal evidence presented to him suggested that cannabis could improve the responses to some therapies in patients with cancer. This lead to a field of work studying the anticancer effects of cannabinoids in a variety of cancer types used both alone and in combination with other treatment modalities.

Research group

Dr Katherine Scott, Postdoctoral Research Assistant, Cannabinoid & glioma project

Dr Andrew Gravett, Postdoctoral Research Assistant, Immuno-modulation project

Miss Nadine Hall, Research Assistant, Cannabinoid and breast cancer project

 

Dr Liu provides lectures on the relationship between the cell cycle and development of cancer on a variety of BSc and MSc courses at St George’s and King’s College London.

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