Nearly 17,000 people will be diagnosed with esophageal cancer this year alone. One cause of this disease is a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, a change in the cells that line the esophagus due to heartburn or reflux, which over time can develop into esophageal cancer. Millions of Americans have Barrett’s esophagus and undergo repeated screening with multiple biopsies to look for signs of cancer progression. Unfortunately, the majority of cancers caused by Barrett’s esophagus are not detected early. Matthew Stachler, M.D., Ph.D., recognized the need for a better strategy to determine which Barrett’s patients are at high risk of getting cancer in order to detect the disease in an earlier stage when successful treatment is more likely.
Dr. Stachler received a Prevent Cancer Foundation® grant for his research to determine the differences in genomic alterations (changes in DNA) found within the Barrett’s esophagus between people who do and do not get esophageal cancer. This research could develop markers of disease progression for early detection and treatment.
Dr. Stachler’s previous work looked at the genomic alterations found in Barrett’s tissue in patients with esophageal cancer. These studies have found key alterations in the Barrett’s DNA before any other signs of progression and have changed the way we think Barrett’s esophagus progresses into cancer. This raises the exciting possibility of using these genomic alterations as a marker to identify who is at risk of disease progression.
The Prevent Cancer Foundation® is now helping to fund the next step in this process. Dr. Stachler and his team will be looking to identify these alterations (and discover new alterations) in a collection of clinical biopsies from both patients with Barrett’s esophagus that progressed to cancer and patients who have benign Barrett’s esophagus that never developed cancer. These studies will be the building blocks for larger studies aimed at testing and validating these markers.
“The Prevent Cancer Foundation® grant will be tremendously valuable in laying the foundation for future grants, and hopefully, clinical trials to help identify patients most at risk of developing esophageal cancer, Dr. Stachler said. “We hope to definitively show that alterations in the genes are present in biopsies of the earliest lesions and we can use these alterations to determine who is at highest risk of progressing to invasive cancer.”
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