Dr. Saenz, with the Division of Gastroenterology at Washington University School of Medicine, is the second Research Scholar for gastric cancer – awarded in May 2017. Dr. Saenz is studying how the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, the greatest risk factor for developing gastric cancer, adapts to the stomach environment.
An Interview with Dr. Saenz:
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 AGA-GCF 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 lend insight 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.