In 2014, the Gastric Cancer Foundation and the American Gastroenterology Association (AGA) established a perpetual $270,000 three-year research grant to support innovative research in gastric cancer.
We asked Dr. Saenz to shed light on his upcoming research at Washington University in St. Louis:
How did you become interested in gastric cancer research?
It was a perfect way for me to marry my background in microbiology and explore new avenues in cancer research. Infection with the gastric bacterium Helicobacter pylori is the greatest risk factor for developing gastric cancer. I am fascinated by the ability of a bacterium to live for decades in an inhospitable environment like the stomach, all the while changing the gastric landscape to survive and lead to cancer in the process.
How will the Research Scholar Award in Gastric Cancer help your research over the next three years?
If we can begin to understand how Helicobacter pylori genetically adapts to different regions of the stomach, this may clue us to which bacterial genes are important for survival in these regions, and we can begin to target these genes therapeutically. We can also use these bacterial genes as biomarkers so that we can identify people infected with bacterial strains that harbor these genes. Then we will be able to detect patients with an increased risk based on the bacterial profiles.
How does this AGA-GCF support help young scientists in the gastric cancer field?
I trust my research will help other scientists learn more about the microbial-host interactions that dictate the development of gastric cancer. The hope is that this research will inspire other scientists in the field to look at the interactions early in infection as being crucial events that might create a micro-environment that can progress to cancer.
What is your hope for your current research?
Ultimately, I would like to see my research lendinsight into better understanding how Helicobacter pylori adapt to the stomach environment. We need to fundamentally explore these early interactions if we want to be able to identify high-risk patients and improve gastric cancer mortality, which is unacceptably high in the United States—and worldwide.
The first recipient was Dr. Mohamad El-Zaatari, PhD, from the University of Michigan, who focused on studying how chronic inflammation causes certain cells to become malignant and changes in inflamed stomach tissue that lead to precancerous conditions.
With the help of the Foundation’s initial funding, Dr. El-Zaatari has now received Congressional medical research funding through the Department of Defense to continue his breakthrough research on “Targeting B Cell-Mediated Type II Autoimmunity in Gastric Carcinogenesis.”
“This grant has enabled me to pursue research and show substantial results so I can seek larger grants to continue these important studies. With grants like this one, the Foundation has the ability to develop an army of investigators to pursue research on this scarcely funded cancer.” Dr. Mohamad El-Zaatari, first Foundation Research Scholar, 2016
About the Foundation’s Research Program
In 2013, the Gastric Cancer Foundation established a partnership with the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) Research Foundation to initiate a research grant program in gastric cancer. The AGA Institute is matching Gastric Cancer Foundation’s commitment of $1,125,000, to create a $2,250,000 endowment to fund young investigators who are researching the fundamental pathobiology of gastric cancer. Research data will be used to understand and ultimately prevent or develop a cure for these diseases.
AGA–Gastric Cancer Foundation Ben Feinstein Memorial Research Scholar Awards in Gastric Cancer provide young researchers with $90,000 per year for three years. Research data will be used to understand and ultimately prevent or develop a cure for the disease. These efforts will be strengthened by Gastric Cancer Foundation’s continuing investments in the Gastric Cancer Registry and Genomic Sequencing. Researchers interested in applying for the Research Scholar Award in Gastric Cancer should visit www.gastro.org/foundation.