When J.P. Gallagher was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2007, no one knew the impact he would have on the direction of research and understanding of stomach cancer’s biology. Research into many other types of cancer is often well funded, with specific databases of both physical and lifestyle information gathered from people with those cancers. Gastric cancer had less visibility and funding, as well as a lack of lifestyle and tumor data. With GCF investment, this is changing.
“Using GCF funding, the Cancer Genetics Program at Stanford opened in 2008,” said James Ford, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pediatrics and Genetics; Director, Stanford Program for Clinical Cancer Genetics. “As part of the program, we determined what was needed to support stomach cancer research. Our thinking was that via a Registry, we could gather data from people with gastric cancer that included lifestyle and environmental factors as well as physical samples of the tumors themselves.”
With the help of generous funding from Diane and Ronald Weintraub, in memory of their beloved daughter Beth Weintraub Schoenfeld, a major milestone for the GCF was achieved via the Gastric Cancer Registry in April 2011.
“Through the Gastric Cancer Registry, we can manage stomach cancer data in a central repository to be used as a resource for doctors and researchers around the world to identify hypotheses and evaluate them against the established tissue samples and lifestyle trends,” explained Dr. Ford. “The Registry is an extremely useful tool for stomach cancer research in the US and the world.”
Personalized cancer medicine is an approach to managing the disease through understanding the relevant genetic factors that underlie the particular tumor of an individual and tailor therapy to that individual. This may only be achieved when there are data, such as those collected by the Registry, that are available to provide a genetic fingerprint or “phenotype.” Understanding tumor biology has led to successful treatments in other cancers, such as breast, which is another cancer that has many different subtypes. Gastric and breast actually share one sub type – HER2, for which Herceptin is a commonly used medicine.
“GCF support through the Registry allowed us to phenotype, or fingerprint stomach cancer,” continued Dr. Ford. “Because of this achievement, we are that much closer to understanding gastric cancer and moving toward a personalized approach to treating it. We have also been able to unravel the gastric cancer genome, which in the future will continue to support researchers, patients and ultimately a cure for this terrible disease.”