Davidson Fellows - 2012 Fellow Lijia Xie


Lijia Xie

$25,000 Scholarship Recipient

Age: 17
Lansdale, PA
Category: Science
Project Title: “Location Matters—Specificity of the Methylated RASSF1A Gene as a Biomarker for the Detection of Hepatocellular Carcinoma.”


Lijia’s project revolves around the concept of DNA methylation and its use as a biomarker, or indicator, for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), or liver cancer. DNA methylation silences genes; thus, by examining the methylation of a tumor suppressor gene known as RASSF1A, the amount of methylation serves as a good indicator of the potential presence of cancer. Currently, the only such clinically approved indicator for HCC is a test known as serum alpha-fetoproteins, or AFP. However, this test is only around 60% sensitive, meaning that roughly 40% of positive cases are not detected. The test Lijia developed is able to detect and differentiate cancerous and noncancerous tissue with greater sensitivity than AFP, and further research can develop these techniques and strategies into viable, early detection methods for liver cancer. Biomarkers, one of which is DNA methylation, is the core of research within their lab, and thus his project was initiated to investigate RASSF1A, which was a new gene in the lab despite its having been previously studied and published.

Hepatocellular carcinoma, while less prevalent in the United States and North America, has high incidence rates in Asia and Africa and still contributes to over 600,000 deaths annually. One of the primary reasons for its high mortality rate is due to the failings of detection methods (most notably, AFP) to diagnosis the disease at an early, treatable stage. Lijia’s research is preliminary work in developing a better, clinically viable detection method for HCC; this new method would help improve the quality of life for individuals who may be at risk for liver cancer by allowing an earlier diagnosis and in turn better prognosis.

Lijia won the Drexel University Discovery Day competition with his study. He will be a senior this fall at North Penn High School.

Click the links below to view hi-res photos of Lijia:

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Click here to view the full listing of the 2012 Davidson Fellows. 
Click here to view Lijia's press release.

For all media inquiries, please contact DavidsonFellowsMedia@davidsongifted.org

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