About 45% of gastric cancer patients experience peritoneal carcinomatosis (PC), the spread of the cancer to the abdominal lining—a development that’s associated with poor outcomes. Last year, the Gastric Cancer Foundation awarded a $75,000 research grant to Jaffer A. Ajani, MD, Professor of Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The funding fueled new discoveries in Ajani’s lab that he hopes will aid the development of therapies for PC.
In a study published in April in the journal Gut, Ajani’s lab reported that a gene called YAP1 is upregulated in PC tumor cells and appears to drive metastasis. And if other cancer-driving genes are inhibited with drugs, Yap1 takes over, allowing tumors to grow even as they are treated. “It’s like the ultimate method of resisting stress caused by treatment,” Ajani said.
Ajani and his colleagues are also studying emerging gene targets in gastric cancer, including GTX4. “We believe it’s not just a bystander—it’s a driver for gastric cancer cells. So we are planning more studies to understand this particular target,” said Ajani, who is working with four other labs to conduct the research.