The biggest challenge facing researchers who have exciting but unproven ideas for fighting gastric cancer is raising the funds they need to complete vital early-stage studies. The Gastric Cancer Foundation is committed to addressing this funding gap, in the hopes of contributing to research that could inspire novel treatments.
Towards that end, the Foundation has awarded two new $100,000 research grants. One will go to the lab of Timothy Wang, M.D., professor at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, which is focused on enhancing immuno-oncology treatments by targeting specific myeloid cells. Another grant was awarded to a team led by Nina Salama, Ph.D., professor at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, which will investigate the role of Fusobacterium nucleatum in gastric cancer.
Wang’s project centers around myeloid derived suppressor cells (MDSCs), which are immature immune cells that expand in gastric cancer and have been shown to suppress T cells, thus reducing the effectiveness of drugs that inhibit the immune checkpoint PD-1. Wang will use the Foundation grant to test various combination therapies in preclinical models of the disease to see if inhibiting MDSCs can make immuno-oncology treatments like PD-1 inhibitors more effective.
“We’ve shown that you can suppress MDSCs in mouse models of gastric cancer with chemotherapy, but many patients would prefer an alternative,” Wang says. One combination treatment will include an anti-PD-1 drug and a novel protein called TFF2-CTP, which Wang has studied for over three decades. And because a loss of histamine signaling has been shown to increase the production of MDSCs, the study will also investigate a combination treatment that includes a histamine activator, he adds.
Salama’s lab has long been focused on studying the role of the Helicobacter pylori bacterium in gastric cancer. In recent years, researchers in Japan, Korea and other countries where the disease is common started publishing studies showing that when H. pylori is prevalent in gastric cancer cases, levels of Fusobacterium nucleatum (Fn) are low, and vice versa. Salama and her colleagues will use the Foundation grant to study how Fn colonization drives the progression of gastric cancer in mouse models, and how the inflammation driven by Fn differs from that caused by H. pylori.
The project also has an immune component, Salama says. “Part of what makes this interesting is that gastric cancer is really hard to treat. So we’re particularly interested in learning how both these bacteria manipulate the immune response,” she says. “Those details could have implications for immunotherapy strategies in gastric cancer.”
Both researchers are hopeful the Gastric Cancer Foundation grants will help them establish strong proof-of-concept data they can use to garner the support they’ll need to advance their projects even further. “Having this kind of pilot funding to take what we think is a solid idea and generate concrete information that we can present to the field is just so helpful,” Salama says.
Wang says the Foundation’s support “has me thinking about the impact of my research on patients. Now I’m able to do move towards research that could impact patient care in the short term.”
To learn more about our early stage grant program, click here.