Gene May Be a Target of Stomach Cancer Treatment

Researchers Say Discovery of Gene’s Role in Stomach Cancer May Lead to New Therapies

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on December 28, 2010
From the WebMD Archives

Dec. 28, 2010 -- Targeting ASK-1, a gene previously linked to both skin and colon cancer, may be a new way to treat stomach cancer, Japanese researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

There will be about 21,000 new cases of stomach or gastric cancer diagnosed in 2010, and about 10,570 people will die from this disease during the same year, according to the American Cancer Society. Risks for stomach cancer include smoking, consuming salted and smoked meat, and Helicobacter pylori infection. Current stomach cancer treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

In the new study, researchers showed that 66 people with stomach cancer had excessive amounts of the ASK-1 enzyme (apoptosis signal-regulating kinase 1) expressed in their stomach tumor cells, compared to samples of healthy stomach tissue.

The researchers also compared the amount of ASK-1 in colon cancer cells and healthy colon cells and found that levels were not elevated in either of these groups, suggesting that excessive amounts of ASK-1 may be unique to stomach cancer.

In a second experiment, mice in which the ASK-1 gene has been deactivated had a lower risk for developing stomach cancer than genetically normal mice.

So what is ASK-1 doing to stomach cancer cells? The researchers speculate that it may encourage cancerous cells to divide more rapidly.

“These results indicate an essential role of ASK1 in gastric [cancer] and suggest the potential of specific ASK1-targeting therapies for gastric cancer,” conclude study researchers led by Shin Maeda, a gastroenterologist at the University of Tokyo in Japan.

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Hayakawa, Y.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2010.

American Cancer Society web site: “Stomach Cancer.”

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