By Luke Frank

UNM research shows promise in preventing stomach cancer

University of New Mexico researchers are studying a promising new method for reducing inflammation that can lead to stomach cancer, the fourth most common cancer in the world.

A research team at the UNM School of Medicine is focusing on a common germ that lives in the digestive tract and can lead to ulcers. Scientists believe there is up to a six-times greater association between this type of bacterium - Helicobacter pylori - and gastric cancer, according to Associate Professor Ellen Beswick, PhD, who is leading the research in the UNM Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology.

H. pylori infection activates a protein known as MK2 that appears to be at the core of damaging inflammation and the development of tumors.

In recent basic science studies, Beswick's team has successfully obstructed this activation process and observed a significant reduction in inflammation with no tumor formation.

"A link between chronic inflammation and tumor development and growth has been established," Beswick says. "However, specific pathways that can be targeted as new treatment approaches are needed. My goal is to find critical pathways, such as MK2, that are important in both tumor cells and immune cells in promoting inflammation and tumor growth."

The study, which is funded through a $215,000 grant from the DeGregorio Family Foundation, will further examine the interplay of MK2 activation in tumor cells, fibroblasts and myeloid cells to uncover the mechanisms by which this pathway is a critical contributor to gastric cancer.

Beyond surgery, there are very few treatment options for gastric cancer, which has a five-year survival rate of just 20 percent.

"We are excited to support Dr. Ellen Beswick's research as we believe she will be successful in furthering our understanding of the role that MK2 protein plays in the development of stomach cancer," says Lynn DeGregorio, president of the DeGregorio Family Foundation. "With many sources cutting back on medical research in general, cancer research projects such as Dr. Beswick's are even more critical."

The DeGregorio Family Foundation raises funds to financially support stomach and esophageal cancer research. The foundation was founded in 2006 by Lynn DeGregorio when the tenth member of the DeGregorio family succumbed to stomach cancer. Since its inception, the foundation has raised more than $2 million and has acted as a catalyst for millions of dollars in additional research, as well as encouraging collaboration among researchers to learn more about these cancers.

Beswick's lab is located in the UNM's Clinical and Translational Sciences Center, which provides expertise in study design and biostatistics support for researchers, along with state of-the-art instrumentation and technical support for molecular biology and immunology investigative approaches.

Categories: Comprehensive Cancer Center, School of Medicine