GCF Newsletter : Fall 2014

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    November 2014

Celebrating Five Years of Progress Against Gastric Cancer
Dear Friends,
As the Gastric Cancer Foundation celebrates its fifth anniversary, I thought we should take this chance to review several of our accomplishments to date.


One of our first initiatives was to establish and fund the Gastric Cancer Registry at Stanford University in 2011. The registry, which has grown to include 225 people, allows researchers to gather a range of data on gastric cancer patients, from lifestyle and health habits, to environmental factors and family histories-information that’s often paired to actual tumor samples. The registry is enabling sophisticated molecular and genomic analysis that promises to greatly accelerate the work of scientists who are searching for new cures.


The Gastric Cancer Foundation is also funding a project at the Stanford University Genome Technology Center that’s aimed at sequencing the gastric cancer genome. In addition to performing DNA sequencing, the scientists working on this project are identifying key mutations and characterizing the RNA of gastric tumors.


Late last year, the Gastric Cancer Foundation hit a critical milestone when we passed $1,000,000 in research support.


Soon after, our organization teamed up with the American Gastroenterology Association to fund our first endowed scholar. Our inaugural AGA-GCF Scholar for Research into Gastric and Esophageal Cancer, Dr. Mohammed El-Zaatari at the University of Michigan, won $270,000 to support his research aimed at determining how chronic inflammation leads to gastric cancer.


We have also succeeded in winning critical corporate support for gastric cancer research and advocacy. Our longest-term corporate sponsor is Genentech, which has funded our growing library of videos, the redesign of our website, and a variety of patient education and awareness activities.


And recently we initiated a public advocacy effort in Washington to raise the profile of gastric cancer and expand understanding of the need for increased funding of gastric cancer research. We’re working to raise the priority funding level for gastric cancer by getting the disease classified as a “recalcitrant cancer,” or one with a five-year relative survival rate of less than 50 percent.


Throughout, we have worked hard to establish a clear web identity and a strong national board. And we’ve implemented a business planning process to chart the best course for the coming five years. the Gastric Cancer Foundation’s board members, volunteers, and supporters worldwide are committed to continuing the organization’s vital work as we look forward to the next five years!


– Wayne Feinstein, Chairman


6th Annual Gastric Cancer Foundation Gala

There’s still time to make your reservation!   
Join us for an evening of celebration and support
for leading-edge gastric cancer research



Saturday, December 6th
Peninsula Golf and Country Club
San Mateo, California
6:30 Reception
7:45 Gourmet Dinner & Live Auction
        Exciting Dessert Dash
$175 per person
RSVP by November 21st
Click here to make your reservation now.

Voices of Experience


Alex Niles

Founder of CureWear

When Alex Niles was diagnosed with Stage IV gastric cancer at the age of 30, in the fall of 2013, he didn’t waste much time feeling sorry for himself. Determined to make the most of a challenging situation, he plunged into the first of what has now been 21 cycles of the chemo regimen Folfox.


Little did he know his illness would spark a business idea.


It all started when Niles was taking off his shirt one day so a nurse could access the medical port embedded in his chest and used for withdrawing blood and delivering IV therapies. Niles tried to have a sense of humor about his port-he even named it Natalie Portman after the beautiful actress-but he found the routine depressing.


“I was sick of taking my shirt off,” Niles says. “I thought it was incredibly demeaning, especially right before being treated with poison. Then I thought, ‘Wait, here’s a business idea.'”


Niles created CureWear, a line of T-shirts with discreet pockets that can be opened and closed, providing easy access to hidden medical ports. No need for undressing.


The idea caught on quickly. Niles raised $50,000 on Kickstarter over the summer-enough to begin producing shirts for men, women, and children and taking pre-orders. CureWear expects to start shipping the shirts soon.


For Niles, CureWear has been much more than a business opportunity. He has vowed to take part of the proceeds from each sale and use the money to provide clothing to underprivileged patients. To bring attention to his mission, Niles has become a star on social media, amassing more than 11,000 followers on Twitter and blogging about his experiences as a gastric cancer patient for Huffington Post. “It’s been such a positive distraction,” Niles says. “The sky is the limit.”


Niles says CureWear is just one of the methods he uses to cope with his treatments. He practices meditation and yoga and has embraced a healthy diet, he says. Niles, who was once a Division I scholarship soccer star at Drexel, has dubbed himself MVP-most valuable patient-pouring all his energy into adopting a positive attitude.


“When you’re living with Stage IV cancer, there is no remission. That’s a hard pill to swallow,” he says. “But we’re being as aggressive with the treatments as possible and it has worked. I try not to stress too much. I had to give up the whole concept of control. Now I think of myself as a Stage IV cancer survivor.”


Niles wears his own CureWear shirt to every treatment session, of course. “The first step is you have to get poked when they draw your labs, so it just makes the experience a little more human,” Niles says. “The nurses love the shirt, because it makes it less awkward for them. It starts the whole day on a positive note.” 

Hans Rueffert

Gastric Cancer Foundation Board Member

Hans Rueffert is an acclaimed chef, author, educator, television producer and gastric cancer survivor. He is also an active member of the Gastric Cancer Foundation Board.
Shortly after finishing third in the Next Food Network Star television series in 2005, Hans was diagnosed with stage three stomach cancer. He lost most of his stomach and esophagus to the disease, but is currently cancer free.
Hans Rueffert’s story was recently featured in “The Story of the Stomachless Chef“, an article in Coping With Cancer magazine.

Our Expanding Video Library 


The Gastric Cancer Foundation has posted three new informative YouTube videos that describe some of our major initiatives.


The first, “Gastric Cancer Registry,” features board member and Stanford professor Jim Ford, along with Meredith Mills, the registry’s director. They discuss the goals of the registry and its utility to scientists studying the disease. The second, “Gastric Cancer Registry Step-By-Step Tutorial,” is just that. In this six-minute video, Mills walks viewers through the process of signing up for the registry.


We have also posted “Hans Rueffert – A Voice of Experience,” which features gastric cancer survivor and board member Rueffert talking about his experience with the disease and the resources our organization offers.


Research News

Here are some of the most exciting advances in gastric cancer research reported over the past few months:

New Immune-Boosting Drug Shows Promise in Gastric Cancer

Merck’s Keytruda, which was approved by the FDA to treat melanoma in September, is now showing promise in treating gastric cancer. The drug is the first in a new class of medicines that work by blocking the protein Programmed Death receptor (PD-1), or the related PD-L1, which tumors normally use to evade attacks by the body’s immune system. In patients whose tumors over-express PD-L1, blocking the protein allows their bodies to launch more effective attacks against their cancers. During a presentation at the European Society of Medical Oncology in September, scientists revealed that in a study involving 39 patients with PD-L1 positive advanced gastric cancer, 12 patients saw their tumors shrink after taking Merck’s drug. The company plans to start a larger Phase II trial in the first half of 2015. [Read more

Could Botox Curb Stomach Tumors?

The world’s favorite wrinkle eraser might not seem like a logical treatment for gastric cancer, but that didn’t deter scientists from Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Columbia University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In August, they announced their discovery that the cosmetic injection Botox-which is made from Botulinum toxin-can halt the growth of gastric tumors by interrupting certain nerve signals. The scientists showed that the vagus nerve controls the growth of gastric cancer stem cells and that Botox can block the transmission of signals from that nerve. That, in turn, suppresses the stem cells. The researchers suggested that Botox could be injected directly into stomach tumors, creating few side effects and promoting tumor shrinkage when combined with chemo, but that further studies would be required to determine the risks and benefits of such a treatment. [Read more]

Newly Defined Molecular Marker Could Guide Treatment Choices

Scientists at Guangxi University of Chinese Medicine have been studying a cancer stem cell protein marker called aldehyde dehydrogenase 1 family member A1 (ALDH1A1) to try to unlock the mysteries of how gastric cancer forms. In September, they published research in the journal BMC Cancer describing their discovery that ALDH1A1 can serve as a prognostic indicator of both overall survival and progression-free survival in gastric cancer patients. Specifically, the overexpression of the protein correlated with a poor prognosis in tumor size, depth invasion, and lymph node metastasis. The researchers concluded that measuring ALDH1A1 in newly diagnosed patients could help guide the selection of appropriate therapies. [Read more


We’ve Gone Social!
Like us on Facebook    Follow us on Twitter      

The Gastric Cancer Foundation has been increasing its presence on social media over the last several months. In addition to our Facebook page, we recently added a Twitter account, @GastricCancerFD. We’ve already attracted an impressive list of Twitter followers, including the American College of Gastroenterology, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and the Association of Community Cancer Centers. And we’re up to 1,675 “likes” on Facebook.


If you want to keep up to date on our news and events, as well as the latest in gastric cancer research, like our page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. The more likes and follows we amass, the higher our profile will become on the Internet, allowing us to reach more patients and members of the scientific community. We look forward to seeing you on social media!