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Debbie’s Dream Foundation-AACR Gastric Cancer Research Fellowship 

The Debbie’s Dream Foundation-AACR Gastric Cancer Research Fellowship represents a joint effort to encourage and support mentored young investigators to conduct gastric cancer research and to establish successful career paths in this field. Eligibility is limited to postdoctoral and clinical research fellows who have completed their most recent doctoral degree within the past five years. The research proposed for funding may be basic, translational, clinical, or epidemiological in nature and must have direct applicability and relevance to gastric cancer.

2017 Grantees

Zhang_90x110.jpgHaisheng Zhang, PhD
Research Fellow
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Boston, Massachusetts
RHOA alterations in the development of diffuse gastric cancer

Scientific Statement of Research
This project is focused on diffuse gastric cancer (DGC), a highly lethal cancer with marked propensity for metastasis, and lack of therapeutic options. Recent genomic studies led by Dr. Zhang’s mentor identified a new opportunity to advance the study of DGC. They identified that 15% of DGC harbor highly recurrent missense mutations in the small GTPase RHOA, implying that altered RHO activity is a critical contributor to the pathogenesis of DGC, making efforts to characterize the function of RHO in DGC and to identify means of therapeutically exploiting RHO’s role in these cancers of great importance. They have now developed new organoid and mouse model system in which to study RHOA’s function in DGC and are poised to exploit this model to detail the mechanisms of RHOA in DGC and, ultimately, to identify new therapeutic approaches.

Haisheng Zhang is a postdoctoral fellow in Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School. He earned his Ph.D. in Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences. He has published four first(co-first) author papers in JBC and has been awarded two postdoctoral fellowships: one is Horizon Award from “Department of Defense” and another is Debbie’s Dream Foundation from AACR. Now he is focusing on the RHOA alterations on the pathogenesis of Diffuse Gastric Cancer and determine the potential  therapeutic targets for this deadly diffuse gastric cancer for long term goal.

Acknowledgement of Support
This grant is critical for supporting the current important research and helpful to my career development.

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Kaczor-Urbanowicz_90x110.jpgKarolina E. Kaczor-Urbanowicz, PhD, DMD
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
University of California, Los Angeles
Los Angeles, California
Salivary H. pylori exRNAs as biomarkers for gastric cancer detection

Scientific Statement of Research
This research project is to test the hypothesis that salivary Helicobacter pylori exRNA biomarkers can be dveloped for non-invasive detection of gastric cancer, for which Helicobacter pylori is a WHO class I carcinogen. Productive collaboration with Samsung Medical Center (SMC) in Seoul Korea, where gastric cancer is the most common lethal disease, permitted the acquisition and collection of targeted clinical specimens. After comprehensive RNA-Sequencing of randomized saliva samples from 100 Korean gastric cancer patients and 100 Korean non-gastric cancer  matched controls, the bioinformatic analysis of salivary RNA-Sequencing data will be performed with the major focus on microbial analysis, specifically on Asian-specific Helicobacter pylori strains. Validation of biomarkers on an independent group of 50 gastric cancer patients and 50 non-gastric cancer controls will be conducetd by means of quantitative polymerase chain reaction with subsequent construction of a most discriminatory panel of salivary Helicobacter pylori exRNAs for non-invasive gastric cancer detection.

Dr. Karolina Elzbieta Kaczor-Urbanowicz, DMD, PhD, graduated from the Faculty of Dental Medicine at the Medical University of Warsaw, Poland, where she also received her PhD. She did her residency in orthodontics simultaneously with the studies in Bio-Medical Sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. She is President of the World Federation of Postgraduate Orthodontic Students (WFPOS). Having been awarded the R90 NIH/NICDR Dentist-Scientists Postdoctoral Fellowship in Dr. David Wong’s Center for Oral/Head & Neck Oncology Research at University of California at Los Angeles, USA, she continues to develop her interests in salivary diagnostics for gastric cancer detection.

Acknowledgement of Support
I feel extremely honored for receiving the prestigious 2017 Debbie's Dream Foundation-AACR Gastric Cancer Research Fellowship, that will enable me to deepen my inspiration and interests in developing novel salivary Helicobacter pylori exRNA biomarkers. The study will be clinically impactful for effective and non-invasive early detection of gastric cancer.

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2016 Grantee

Holly A. Martinson,PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow
University of Alaska Anchorage
Anchorage, Alaska
Discovering biomarkers for early detection and treatment of gastric cancer

Gastric cancer is one of the largest cancer disparities among the Alaska Native (AN) people with a 3-fold higher incidence and 4-fold higher mortality rate compared to gastric cancers in US Non-Hispanic Whites (NHW). Dr. Holly Martinson’s research will focus on identifying genetic alterations and molecular markers that are implicated in gastric cancer pathogenesis and that might serve as potential biomarkers for early detection and immediate targets for novel therapeutics for gastric cancer patients.

Gastric cancer is the third most common cause of cancer death in the Alaska Native population and worldwide. Gastric cancer in AN people differs from the NHW population in anatomic location, subtype, and higher presence of signet ring cell carcinomas. In addition, AN gastric cancer patients are diagnosed at a significantly earlier age. The observation that these histologic subtypes vary in clinical and epidemiological features suggests the possibility that there may be differences in both the etiological factors of gastric cancers and their molecular pathogenesis in AN people. Inflammatory factors, immune cell infiltration, and infections by Epstein-Barr virus, are all factors that could be promoting the high incidence and severity of gastric cancer in the AN people. Dr. Martinson has proposed to characterize the role of chronic inflammation and infection in the promotion of gastric cancer, as well as identify gastric cancer oncogenes that could be used as biomarkers or targets for novel therapeutics. This proposal ultimately strives to understand how gastric cancer is driven by inflammation, EBV, and genetic alterations, information that is pertinent to understanding and treating gastric cancer across all ethnic groups.

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