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Epidemiology, Biomarker and Clinical Outcome Researcher to Direct Liver Cancer Program

Ju Dong Yang, MD, Plans to Accelerate Research and Create a One-Stop Shop Where Patients Can Access Specialty Care With an Individualized Approach

Ju Dong Yang, MD, a liver cancer clinician-researcher who studies epidemiology, health disparities and outcomes, and biomarkers bothCancer Best Hospitals 2022 Badge nationally and globally, has been appointed medical director of the Liver Cancer Program at Cedars-Sinai Cancer.

In his expanded role, Yang—who works closely with the Cancer Research Center for Health Equity at Cedars-Sinai—will continue to address liver cancer and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in high-risk populations. He will also create community-based education initiatives that will better facilitate the accrual of clinical trials.  

“As a translational scientist who brings his research findings into clinical practice, Dr. Yang will develop and lead a best-in-class, multidisciplinary liver cancer program that brings together physicians and researchers from across Cedars-Sinai,” said Dan Theodorescu, MD, PhD, director of Cedars-Sinai Cancer and the PHASE ONE Foundation Distinguished Chair. “He and his team will create a scientific culture that supports and promotes an expansion of liver cancer research, creating new tools that improve patient care.”

Originally from Korea, where incidence of liver cancer is especially high, Yang first became interested in studying and treating liver cancer during medical school in Seoul. Upon graduating, he completed fellowships in gastroenterology, hepatology and transplant hepatology, and a master’s degree in clinical and translational research, at the Mayo Clinic. 

One important focus of his research is improving early detection of liver cancer.

“By detecting liver cancer early, we can save patients’ lives,” said Yang, an assistant professor of Medicine. “Unfortunately, liver cancerJu Dong.Yang, MD screening is done very poorly in most parts of the world, including the United States. This means we often don’t see patients until their cancer is at an advanced stage where they have few treatment options.”

Yang believes that patient-friendly screening methods, such as the liquid biopsy approach—a blood test that can detect liver cancer—as well as research that yields new biomarkers to help spot liver cancer early, are the keys to increasing early detection.

To improve health equity in liver cancer detection and treatment, Yang said the first step is to understand where disparities exist in clinical practice.

“My research has shown that certain racial minorities often do not receive any treatment at all, or have the start of their treatment significantly delayed when they are diagnosed with liver cancer,” Yang said. “Our most recent studies showed that these patients are less likely than others to receive highly effective medications for liver cancer management, and that even those with small tumors are less likely than other patients to receive curative treatment.”  

Yang has also noted disparities in access to clinical trial participation among these patients.

One of Yang’s goals for the Liver Cancer Program is to establish a multidisciplinary clinic that allows patients to receive care from multiple specialty providers at one location. On the research side, he would like to increase the number of clinical trials of liver cancer treatments and investigate biomarkers that will help predict treatment outcomes for patients.

“I am eager to expand our individualized medicine approaches to treating patients with liver cancer, to accelerate discovery in the lab, and to tightly integrate research and clinical practice,” Yang said. “This will increase treatment opportunities and make the best possible care available to all of our patients.”

Read more on the Cedars-Sinai Blog: Routine Liver Biopsies During Bariatric Surgery Help Catch NAFLD Early