Close
FINDING CURES TOGETHER<sup>SM</sup>
  • Home
  • Funding
  • Debbie’s Dream Foundation-AACR Gastric Cancer Fellowship

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.

2018 Grantees

Debbie's Dream Foundation-AACR Gastric Cancer Research Fellowship, in memory of Sally Mandel

Richard Gordon Hodge, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Aberrant RHOA function and signaling in driving diffuse gastric cancer

Scientific Statement of Research
Diffuse gastric cancer (DGC) has a high mortality rate and treatment options for this disease are dismal. Recent cancer genome sequencing studies have identified recurrent missense mutations in the RHOA small GTPase, indicating that further study of RHOA function may lead to key insights into the pathophysiology of DGC. RHOA shares high structural and biochemical identity with RAS oncoproteins, which are well-validated cancer drivers due to cancer-associated missense mutations at hotspot regions which lock RAS in the activated state (G12, G13, Q61). Surprisingly, the cancer-genome sequencing studies revealed that RHOA mutations do not cluster at analogous mutational hotspots found in RAS. Instead, gastric cancer-associated RHOA mutations cluster primarily at residues R5, G17 and Y42. How these mutations convert RHOA into a driver of DGC remains unknown. I will conduct biochemical and cell biological studies to determine how these mutations create RHOA gain-of-function cancer drivers.

Biography
Richard Hodge graduated with a First Class Biochemistry (BSc) degree from the University of Bristol (UK) and a Master’s degree in Biomedical Science from King’s College London (UK). He was then awarded the Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity Prize PhD scholarship and conducted his doctoral research in the laboratory of Professor Anne Ridley FRS at the Randall Division of Cell and Molecular Biophysics, King’s College London (UK). He is now a postdoctoral fellow at the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of North Carolina.

Acknowledgement of Support
I am deeply honored to have received the prestigious 2018 Debbie’s Dream Foundation-AACR Gastric Cancer Research Fellowship.  This fellowship will be crucial for supporting my research into gastric cancer -associated RHOA mutations and will be important in the development of my career as a research scientist.

Top of page

Debbie's Dream Foundation-AACR Gastric Cancer Research Fellowship, in memory of Sally Mandel

Valerie Phoebe O’Brien, PhDValerie Phoebe O’Brien, PhD
Postdoctoral Researcher
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Seattle, Washington
headshot_1 spacerAssessing Helicobacter pylori contributions to stomach cancer progression

Scientific Statement of Research
Almost 90% of gastric cancer cases are attributable to stomach infection with Helicobacter pylori (Hp), a bacterium found in half of humans. Hp infection causes chronic inflammation that, over decades, can lead to metaplastic changes that progress to cancer. However, the specific mechanism(s) through which chronic infection and/or inflammation drive gastric cancer remain unknown. This project will use a mouse model in which gastric metaplasia is genetically triggered. Mice will be infected or mock-infected and followed over time to assess how the presence of Hp may skew the local immune environment and alter or accelerate the development and progression of gastric metaplasia. Additionally, mice will be infected with mutant Hp strains lacking clinically important virulence factors. These studies will help us understand how Hp infection and/or its associated inflammation drives gastric cancer development, and may lead to new antibacterial or immune modulation strategies to treat or even prevent gastric cancer.

Biography
Dr. O’Brien is a post-doctoral research fellow in the Salama laboratory at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. She received her Ph.D. in Molecular Microbiology and Microbial Pathogenesis from Washington University in St. Louis. Her doctoral work on chronic urinary tract infections, conducted in the laboratories of Dr. Scott Hultgren and Dr. Amanda Lewis, was funded in part by a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation. Prior to matriculating at Washington University, she conducted research in pharmacogenetics in Dr. Juergen Brockmoeller’s group at the University Clinic of Goettingen, Germany, under the auspices of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

Acknowledgement of Support
This generous AACR fellowship will support my efforts to understand how and why Helicobacter pylori infection leads to gastric cancer. My hope is that this work will ultimately lead to new prevention or treatment strategies that will improve the lives of people around the world who suffer from the devastating impact of gastric cancer.

Top of page

Debbie's Dream Foundation-Stupid Strong-AACR Gastric Cancer Research Fellowship, in memory of Candance Netzer

Ashleigh Poh, PhDAshleigh Poh, PhD
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute
Victoria, Australia
headshot_1 line spacerCo-targeting HCK as a combination therapy to treat gastric cancer

Scientific Statement of Research
The stromal compartment of gastric tumors is comprised of a heterogeneous collection of cells, of which macrophages are a major component. Tumor-associated macrophages are broadly classified into two main groups: classically-activated macrophages that mediate anti-tumor responses, or alternatively-activated macrophages that facilitate immunosuppression, invasion and metastasis. In human gastric cancer patients, the increased infiltration of alternatively-activated macrophages is associated with a poor clinical outcome. Thus, these cells represent promising targets for anti-cancer therapy. Elevated expression of the myeloid specific kinase, Hematopoietic Cell Kinase (HCK) is observed in most solid human malignancies including gastric cancer, and is associated with poor survival. We have discovered that increased HCK activity enhances tumor progression by promoting the polarization of macrophages towards an alternatively-activated endotype. This project will explore HCK as a novel therapeutic target in early- and advanced stage gastric cancer. The outcomes of this project will provide novel molecular insights into therapeutically targetable mechanisms by which macrophages promote gastric tumor progression in pre-clinically validated mouse models.

Biography
Dr. Poh completed her PhD in Medical Biology in 2017 at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Australia. Her PhD research demonstrated a role for Hematopoietic Cell Kinase (HCK) in colon cancer by enhancing the polarization of “tumorigenic” alternatively-activated macrophages, and was published in the journal Cancer Cell. Following her PhD, Ashleigh was awarded a Cancer Council of Victoria fellowship to continue her research as a post-doctoral fellow at the Olivia Newton John Cancer Research Institute, Australia. She is currently building on her initial findings to investigate the role of HCK in other types of cancers, including gastric cancer. Her findings will provide important insights into the mechanisms by which aberrant HCK activation in immune cells promotes tumor progression.

Acknowledgement of Support
I am extremely honored to be awarded this fellowship, and would like to express my sincere gratitude to Debbie’s Dream Foundation and AACR for their generous support of my research. This fellowship will enable me to further develop my scientific career in tumor immunology, and expand the breadth of my research by working with worldrenowned experts in gastric cancer.

Top of page

Debbie's Dream Foundation-AACR Gastric Cancer Research Fellowship, in memory of Debbie Zelman

Spencer Gaffney Willet, PhDSpencer Gaffney Willet, PhD
Postdoctoral Research Scholar
Washington University in St.Louis
St. Louis, Missouri
headshot_1 line spacerThe Role of the Hippo Pathway in Gastric Tumorigenesis

Scientific Statement of Research
Worldwide, gastric cancer kills more people than nearly any other malignancy, yet, there is poor understanding of how gastric cancer initiates. In this application, based on strong supporting preliminary data, we will use animal models, organoid cultures, and human tissue correlation to investigate the sufficiency/necessity of the Hippo signaling pathway in driving zymogenic (chief) cells to become metaplastic (a process called Spasmolytic Polypeptide Expressing Metaplasia, SPEM). SPEM is a potential precursor lesion for gastric cancer. Moreover, we have shown recently that SPEM is generally similar to the conversion of pancreatic zymogenic acinar cells into metaplastic cells (acinar-to-ductal metaplasia, ADM). The Hippo pathway has a well-established role downstream of oncogenic K-Ras mutations in driving ADM into pancreatic cancer. Thus, for multiple reasons, we hypothesize that the Hippo pathway plays a key role in metaplasia and potentially tumorigenesis in the stomach and are excited to have the opportunity to pursue this fruitful line of investigation.
 
Biography
Spencer Willet is currently a Post-doctoral Fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Jason Mills at Washington University School of Medicine. He earned his Ph.D. in developmental biology at Vanderbilt University in the laboratory of Dr. Christopher Wright studying endodermal development and pancreatic organogenesis.  In the Mills Lab, Spencer is interested in understanding the cellular changes in metabolism and differentiation that occur in gastric injury and disease.
 
Acknowledgement of Support
I am honored to receive this fellowship, which is crucial to supporting my research in Dr. Mills laboratory and my future career development in academic science.

Top of page

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.

Biography
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.

Top of page

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.

Biography
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.

Top of page

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.

Top of page

Search other AACR research funding opportunities.