GCF Newsletter : Spring 2014

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Newsletter – March 2014

I am pleased to share this latest edition of our newsletter. Thanks to expanded volunteer involvement, the generous support of donors throughout the country and our extremely determined leadership team, GCF’s momentum is strong – and it is growing.  Our most recent Annual Gala raised over $125,000 for research and awareness programs, and these funds have been put to work immediately. There are a variety of ways to support our work, and this newsletter highlights several examples.
We see progress and have great hope – but we need your help. I hope we can count on your support as we expand the search for a cure for this deadly disease.

Wayne Feinstein, Chairman

In This Issue

First AGA-GCF Research Scholar Announced!
Meet Dr. Mohamed El-Zaatari

When Mohamad El-Zaatari learned recently he had won a $270,000 research grant from the Gastric Cancer Foundation and the American Gastroenterology Association (AGA), he considered the award an essential validation of his choice to study gastric cancer. “This grant is extremely important, and not just for me,” says El-Zaatari, an investigator at the University of Michigan’s medical school who is studying the role of inflammation in gastric cancer. “People in this field, especially in early-stage research, struggle because gastric cancer research is not getting enough research funding compared to other gastrointestinal cancers in the United States.”
The AGA-Gastric Cancer Foundation Research Scholar Award (RSA) in Gastric & Esophageal Cancer was launched last fall with the goal of providing $90,000 per year for three years to young scientists working towards careers in gastric and esophageal cancer research. El-Zaatari is the first recipient of the award.


El-Zaatari’s research centers around determining the process by which chronic inflammation causes certain cells to become malignant. Specifically he aims to characterize changes in inflamed stomach tissue that lead to precancerous conditions. “We can use tools to look at the cell types and genes that are changing during the later stages of inflammation,” he says. Ultimately what he and his colleagues learn could point to new targets for drug development, he says.


El-Zaatari was born and raised in Lebanon and received his undergraduate training in human genetics at the University of Nottingham in England. He then earned his Ph.D. there in pre-clinical oncology. He joined the University of Michigan as a post-doctoral fellow with the intention of specializing in gastric cancer, because he was attracted to the opportunity to make real advances in a type of cancer that’s relatively understudied in the United States, he says.


In his spare time, El-Zaatari enjoys sports and acting, as well as spending time with his wife, Jenna, who runs a bridal store located on the first floor of their condominium where they live near the university. The store is an extension of El-Zaatari’s mom’s bridal business in Lebanon, he says.


As for advancing his research, El-Zaatari says the AGA-GCF grant gives him a big boost, and the support he needs to stay on the tenure track at the university. “It’s great having a grant devoted to gastric cancer,” he says, adding that he hopes the research scholar program will encourage other young scientists to keep searching for potential cures for the disease. “This grant is going to bridge the [financial] support for early research and give more people in this field a chance to become established investigators in gastric cancer.” 

Research News


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


New Chemical Technique May Boost Surgery Success

One of the best ways to improve survival odds for patients facing gastric cancer is for surgeons to be able to confirm they’re removing every single cancer cell from the stomach. Scientists at Stanford University have developed a method of chemical analysis that they believe will help surgeons find cancer cells that might otherwise be missed by pathology labs, which typically analyze tissue samples during procedures. The technique uses a tool called mass spectrometry to track differences between the chemical profiles of normal tissues and tumors. The scientists tested their method on tissue samples from gastric cancer patients, and discovered they could find hidden cancer cells far more frequently-and more quickly-than typical pathology labs could. The scientists are currently planning larger trials to validate the technique. [Read more]

Researchers Identify Early Signs of Gastric Cancer

It has long been known that Helicobacter pylori infection can be a risk factor for gastric cancer, but what’s not known is why the bug is harmless in some people but causes stomach tumors to form in others. An international team of researchers has identified a set of “glycans,” or sugars attached to proteins, that they believe could help doctors identify the patients who are at most risk for developing gastric cancers. Scientists at the University of California at Davis, working with teams in Mexico and South Korea, showed significant differences in the glycan profiles of patients with gastric cancer and those with gastritis or ulcers, which they published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research. Further study is needed to confirm the information could be used to predict gastric cancer, but if it pans out, the researchers believe the data could be used to create a diagnostic test that physicians could use with patients who have H.pylori. [Read more]

Could the Microbiome Play a Role in Gastric Cancer?

Over the past few years, the scientific community has become more and more interested in the “microbiome”-the 100 trillion or so bacteria that live in our gut, helping us digest our food, fight infections and perform other normal daily functions. Now evidence is emerging that the microbiome could play a role in the formation of gastric cancer, and therefore could be an important target for new therapies. Most recently, researchers in Mexico compared the microbiomes of patients with gastritis, a pre-cancerous condition called intestinal metaplasia, and gastric cancer. They charted differences in the bacterial makeup of the microbiome in each type of patient-a progression of changes that could be an important first step in understanding the role of bacterial transformations in gastric cancer, the scientists say in a report published in the journal Scientific Reports. [Read more]

Quiz for a Cause:
Spotlight on Grassroots Events

When Ari Bell-Brown’s mom was diagnosed with stage 4 gastric cancer last February, the family turned to the Gastric Cancer Foundation for information and resources, and Ari wanted to do something in return. So she started looking around in her home city of Seattle for organizations that would partner with her to run a fundraising event.  


Bell-Brown’s search brought her to Geeks Who Drink, an organization that hosts trivia competitions at bars throughout Seattle. “I contacted them to ask how much it would cost, and they told me they do them for free if you’re raising money for an organization,” Bell-Brown says. “They make it really easy and inexpensive.”


Once Bell-Brown chose a date for the event in November, she sent out an invitation on Facebook and set up a FirstGiving page on GCF’s website. She drew more than 40 friends and family members to the event, which was held at the Madrona Eatery & Ale House in Seattle. They battled as teams through eight rounds of trivia, covering topics ranging from music to history, says Bell-Brown, who also recruited some of her coworkers at Harborview Medical Center, where she works as a referral coordinator for a neurology clinic.


Bell-Brown’s mom, Gaby Bell, is doing well and currently participating in a clinical trial for an experimental drug developed by Merck. She feels well enough to work full-time as a recreational therapist, and she was an enthusiastic attendee of her daughter’s trivia event, Bell-Brown reports.


Bell-Brown raised about $1,000 from the event, plus another $2,000 from her FirstGiving page, which continued to attract donations after the trivia night. Bell-Brown says she advises other volunteers who want to organize similar fundraisers to follow the same approach-raising money online and offline simultaneously.


“When my mom was first diagnosed I set up the fundraising page [for GCF] on FirstGiving,” Bell-Brown says. “Once I organized the quiz night, I sent an e-mail to all of our friends and family that don’t live in the area to tell them they could donate through the FirstGiving site. It was really helpful. When something like this happens, everyone is affected. I think this was a way for people to feel they were participating and helping.”

NYC Chapter Embarks on Marketing Initiatives
New Volunteers Welcome!

In February, several volunteers for the GCF in New York City met with board member Paul Gottsegen, who is the Chief Marketing & Strategy Officer for Mindtree Ltd. and was a close friend of GCF’s founder, JP Gallagher. The group brainstormed ideas for enhancing GCF’s profile on the east coast. 

Among the strategies discussed were developing increased support from corporations and individuals, and increasing the use of digital platforms, such as social media tools Facebook and Twitter to draw traffic to GCF’s site. The group also discussed the possibilities for collaborating with the American Gastroenterological Association and others on materials and events.


In a follow up note to attendees of the meeting, Gottsegen said he was inspired by the group’s “overall energy level and your desire to find a way to make a difference.”


Any NYC-area volunteers who are interested in contributing to the group’s efforts are welcome to join. Please e-mail info@gastriccancer.org for more information.

Join Us and Learn More
Save the Date!
6th Annual Gastric Cancer Foundation Gala
  December 6, 2014
Peninsula Golf & Country Club
San Mateo, California
New Video!
Learn more about the Gastric Cancer Foundation and
the search for a cure for
gastric cancer.