Unnoticed by many, an epidemic involving a devastating type of cancer is developing: Esophageal cancer rates are rising rapidly in the Western world.
The disease is a merciless killer: of the 17,990 patients who will be diagnosed in 2013, 15,210 are expected to succumb to the disease. Unfortunately, surgery is the only treatment that can lead to a cure, and frequently only after initial treatments with harsh chemotherapy and radiation.
Smarter and more effective treatment strategies are urgently needed.
Currently, very little is known about the molecular changes found in esophageal cancer cells that could be targeted with tailored treatments. Using advanced DNA sequencing technology, we have discovered previously unknown changes that occur in the DNA of esophageal cancer cells that cause the fusion, or combining, of two genes. This combination, in turn, activates other genes that make cancer cells divide and survive. With this project proposal, we will confirm that these mutations indeed exist in human esophageal cancer. Furthermore, we will explore the possibility of killing esophageal cancer cells by specifically targeting these fusion genes and investigate how these genes make cancer cells grow and survive.
We expect that results from these studies will set the stage for the development of new and personalized treatment strategies for patients with esophageal cancer.
Who will benefit?
This study will directly benefit the approximately 20,000 patients who will be newly diagnosed with esophageal cancer in the US this year. Worldwide, the rate of esophageal cancer is much higher, and an estimated 410,000 patients die from the disease every year.