A primary obstacle encountered by researchers with new, promising strategies to combat gastric cancer is securing financial support for early-stage research. The Gastric Cancer Foundation recently announced three $100,000 seed grants to bridge this funding gap and support research that may lead to innovative treatments. Research will be conducted at Case Western Reserve University, Columbia University and Massachusetts General Hospital.
Dr. Kishore Guda
A $100,000 grant was awarded to Dr. Kishore Guda, Assistant Professor of Oncology at Case Western Reserve University, where he specializes in the treatment of gastroesophageal cancer.
Dr. Guda’s research project is centered on understanding the causes and development of aggressive types of gastric cancer, which are known to be challenging to treat effectively and have low survival rates. The primary focus of this research is to investigate a potential treatment strategy that targets a signaling protein in the body called transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β).
“In past research on esophageal cancer, we have found that targeting this molecule tends to be effective in specific tumor contexts,” Dr. Guda explains. For this reason, Dr. Guda is exploring the therapeutic potential of vactoserib, a drug that inhibits TGF-β activity in esophageal cancer patients.
“Our idea is to test whether TGF-β is similarly active in gastric cancers and whether blocking this molecule could be an effective therapeutic strategy,” Dr. Guda said. Specifically, his research delves into the crucial role of a protein called HNF4A in predicting treatment response. His previous research showed that the presence of HNF4A in tumors predicted their sensitivity to vactoserib treatment. He hopes his research will shed light on the potential of HNF4A as a biomarker that could be used to predict which patients are most likely to respond to TGF-β targeted therapy.
If Dr. Guda’s research is successful, it could lay the foundation for future clinical trials of vactoserib and other anti-TGF-β therapies in gastric cancer.
According to Dr. Guda, “Organizations like the Gastric Cancer Foundation play a pivotal role in fostering new ideas and providing critical support for early-stage research. This funding helps researchers generate the key data they need to apply for larger grants. I am really appreciative of the Foundation giving so generously to researchers with the hope that we can make a difference in patient’s lives.”
Dr. Ryan Moy
A $100,000 seed grant was also awarded to Dr. Ryan Moy, Assistant Professor of Medicine and medical oncologist at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center where he specializes in the treatment of gastrointestinal malignancies, with a focus on esophageal and stomach cancers.
His innovative project employs a novel approach involving immune cells known as T cells that have been engineered to carry receptors that are specific to a protein called Claudin18.2. “We know that Claudin18.2 is a viable biomarker in a substantial portion of advanced gastric cancer cases. If we target it with antibodies, it can improve survival outcomes for patients,” Dr. Moy explains. Targeting gastric tumors with T cells could provide an alternative to Claudin18.2-targeting drugs.
Dr. Moy’s strategy is aimed at enhancing the longevity of T cells and improving their tumor-penetrating capabilities by using special T cells. These T cells are engineered to express T cell Antigen Coupler (TAC) receptors which recognize Claudin 18.2 and leverage existing natural cell-signaling pathways.
“Our project is complementary to ongoing trials looking at these treatments in patients, and we hope it will lead to additional studies,” states Dr. Moy. “We want to really understand how this therapy works, and how to make it better. In the long term, we believe this can lead to new treatment options being available for patients.”
“We are grateful for this support,” Dr. Moy says. “Being involved with this foundation is really helpful to me as a researcher, and it is also very meaningful to me as a healthcare provider.”
Dr. Alexandra-Chloé Villani
The third $100,000 grant will go to Dr. Alexandra-Chloé Villani, PhD at Massachusetts General Hospital for her project to identify and target peritoneal-specific immunosuppressive networks in gastric cancer from patient-derived samples. Check out our next newsletter for further details about Dr. Villani’s research.