Some gastric tumors have genetic abnormalities that can be directly targeted with drugs, such as HER2 mutations. But cancer is a complex disease that’s also governed by “epigenetics,” the process in which DNA is altered in a way that affects gene expression.
The Foundation has awarded $75,000 to the lab of Heinz-Josef Lenz, professor of medicine, Associate Director Clinical Science and co-director of the USC Norris Center for Cancer Drug Development. Lenz’s lab will use the funding to investigate epigenetic changes in gastric cancer—and potential treatment pathways that address them.
“We know that the cancer genome can be regulated by mutations, but we also know that genes can be silenced” by epigenetic forces including histone modifications, Lenz says. “It’s important to understand these critical processes, because it could identify new targets for drug development.”
Lenz’s team will use the grant to build upon previous discoveries related to KMT2, a gene that, when altered, has been associated with more advanced cases of gastric cancer and poor survival. The researchers analyzed tumors from 1,245 patients with advanced gastric cancer and discovered that high mutation rates in KMT2 often correlated with changes in other genes related to DNA damage repair and chromatin remodeling, both of which can drive tumor growth and progression.