In April, Hanlee Ji, MD, associate professor of medicine at Stanford University and principal investigator of the Gastric Cancer Registry, presented a one-hour webinar, during which he described exciting progress made in recent months in building out the registry and the tools it offers to oncology researchers.
The registry, said Ji, offers “future directions that are opportunities for collaboration and expansion of what we believe will be a very invaluable dataset that has clinical ramifications.”
The Gastric Cancer Registry was founded a decade ago at Stanford and has grown with ongoing funding from the Gastric Cancer Foundation. Most recently, the Foundation committed $257,856 to support a major expansion of the registry this year. The funding will allow the registry researchers to genetically sequence 200 gastric tumor samples from the Intermountain Healthcare Biorepository (IMH-BR), greatly expanding the data included in the recently launched Genome Explorer, a HIPAA-compliant web portal that scientists can use to perform genomic analyses and study relationships between patient symptoms and the genetic characteristics of their tumors.
The Gastric Cancer Registry has collected samples from 528 gastric cancer patients and family members and is well on its way to being the largest registry devoted to the disease. During the webinar, Ji demonstrated the capabilities of the Genome Explorer and provided several examples of how scientists can use it to advance research that could inspire new treatments.
Ji reviewed emerging knowledge about molecular subtypes of gastric cancer, such as those related to Epstein Barr virus (EBV) and microsatellite instability (MSI). Although recently approved immunotherapy drugs are offering new treatment choices for some gastric cancer patients, Ji said, “only a small proportion of patients have [genetic features] that allow them to actually benefit,” highlighting the need for resources like the Genome Explorer to facilitate new discoveries.
The Genome Explorer offers several tools researchers can use to search for diagnostic and therapeutic targets in gastric cancer. They can drill down into the data collected from patients, for example, to learn age at diagnosis, ethnicity, smoking history and other cancer risk factors, and more.
The registry researchers are assembling sequencing libraries from tumor samples using a “multi-omic approach,” Ji said, “a method of essentially looking at the genetic catalog of alterations that are specific to the cancer.” That allows researchers to use the Genome Explorer to study a whole range of gastric tumor characteristics. They include “neoantigens,” which are proteins unique to gastric cancer cells, and features of the tumor microenvironment—surrounding cells that can influence the ability of the immune system to launch an attack against cancer.
“There are a whole variety of different features that we’re able to access,” Ji said during the webinar. “In part what we’re benefiting from are developments in my labs and many others across the world, where we can take this fundamental information from DNA and RNA and extract out a lot more features regarding [stomach cancer]. And these features are fundamentally important to the behavior of these cancers. They represent opportunities to develop new types of biomarkers that we need to improve diagnostics, as well as to test ideas that could lead to novel types of therapy.”
Ji thanked the Gastric Cancer Foundation for its vision in helping to launch the registry, recalling a meeting early on with the foundation’s late founder, JP Gallagher. “We intend to get across the finish line,” Ji said, “and really achieve his aim of having a registry that’s informative, not only in terms of clinical data, but provides a wealth of genomic data that will facilitate and accelerate discoveries in this area.”
For more on the capabilities of the Genome Explorer and plans to expand the Gastric Cancer Registry, watch the full webinar here.