The grant was an important stepping stone to a half-million-dollar award from the U.S. Department of Defense that El-Zaatari received in 2017. Building on research he started with the GCF-AGA funding, El-Zaatari is now studying how precancerous lesions develop in the stomach—and how they can be treated.
“Many gastric cancers start off with immune cells attacking our own ‘self’ cells” El-Zaatari explains. This “autoimmune” process by B cells had not been previously considered to play a part in gastric cancer, and the exact role of those cells in this context is still unknown.
El-Zaatari performed studies in mice that lack B cells and was able to identify markers of precancerous changes in the stomach, he says. “Now we are investigating this further, so we can understand the exact role of B cells, because they clearly play a role.”