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US patient association funds i3S research on gastric cancer

The American patient association “No Stomach for Cancer” has financed a project by an i3S team with 165 thousand euros. The project aims to identify new molecular biomarkers and create automated bioimaging tools to improve the early diagnosis of gastric cancer.

Gastric cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer in the world and this team is particularly interested in a very aggressive form of stomach cancer - diffuse type gastric cancer. This type of cancer has no warning symptoms and is very invasive, spreading through the stomach wall and adjacent organs and peritoneum with a high mortality rate. It is therefore crucial to develop reliable methodologies to diagnose this type of cancer at a very early stage.

In recent years, the Portuguese team, led by Raquel Seruca, has focused on unraveling the molecular mechanism that underlies the invasive behavior of cells of this type of cancer. This project, which received funding from the American patients’ association, is described by the researcher - “our plan is to determine what are the main cellular actors in cell invasion, with particular attention to aspects of cellular plasticity. We want to understand how the nucleus of these cells adapts during the invasion process, either in the first invasion phases or during the process of dissemination in the gastric wall”.

This knowledge, emphasizes Raquel Seruca, leader of the i3S research group “Epithelial Interactions in Cancer”, constitutes an “unprecedented opportunity to identify new biomarkers” that can be important in the diagnosis of the disease, namely through molecular image analysis tools. The objective, she explains, “is to identify the proteins that are recruited for the cell invasion process and use them as molecular markers in expression analysis methods and bioimaging tools in the early diagnosis of these aggressive tumors. This time, in addition to paying attention to the cell membrane proteins, we will focus on nuclear changes and use these variations as biomarkers to monitor the evolution of the disease”. As part of the proposal, guarantees Raquel Seruca, we will “continue to offer a free worldwide service for functional screening of changes in the Caderina-E gene that are identified in the germ line in families with this type of cancer, a service that is being scientifically coordinated by researcher Joana Figueiredo”.

The project includes a team of i3s researchers specialized in cancer genetics, cell biology, and pathology (respectively Raquel Seruca, Joana Figueiredo, and Fátima Carneiro) and in image analysis (João Sanches, from the Institute of Systems and Robotics of the Instituto Superior Técnico of the University of Lisbon), and also counts on the collaboration of the International Gastric Cancer Linkage Consortium.

The American association No Stomach for Cancer aims to promote awareness and education about stomach cancer, including hereditary diffuse gastric cancer (HDGC), establish and maintain a support network for affected families, maintain a strong and high-performing organization, support research efforts for the screening, early detection, treatment and prevention of stomach cancer - as is the objective of this i3S project.

This association, emphasizes Raquel Seruca, “has contributed immensely to information and support for patients and families, and makes a real bridge between cutting-edge research and the clinic”. In addition, adds the i3S researcher, on the association’s website “it is possible to find relevant, current and accurate information about what is known about stomach cancer, from epidemiological studies to new forms of diagnosis and therapy”.