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Collaboration and innovation win CWRU School of Medicine grant to study gastric cancer

CLEVELAND February 7, 2013 - The Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine has received a $220,000 grant from the DeGregorio Family Foundation to study gastric cancers, which remain among the most deadly forms of disease.

The two-year grant from the foundation, which focuses on stomach and esophageal cancer research and education, will support studies aimed at identifying and developing more effective treatments for gastric and esophageal malignancies.

The grant focuses on interleukin-33 (IL-33), a novel mediator that causes inflammation. That inflammation in turn may be involved in the early events leading to development of gastrointestinal cancers, including gastric cancer. IL-33 is the newest member of the IL-1 family of cytokines, which are specific molecules involved in various disease processes, such as inflammation, autoimmunity, and cancer. Cytokines are produced by many different types of cells and deliver signals that allow cells to communicate with each other.

"We are grateful to the DeGregorio Family Foundation for having chosen to support our project this year and for bringing attention to upper GI malignancies," said Theresa Pizarro, PhD, associate professor of Pathology and Medicine, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the study's principal investigator. "Using a multi-disciplinary approach, we are hopeful that this research will allow us to study novel pathways that will uncover the potential sequence of events that occur from inflammation in the stomach to gastric cancer, and to generate more specific and targeted treatment modalities for this devastating disease, for which there is currently no cure. The DeGregorio funds will be critical for this mission and to further expand our research program in this important area of investigation."

Dr. Pizarro's expertise is in cytokine biology, focused on the characterization and function of IL-1 family members, and the role they play in inflammation and gastrointestinal diseases.

Li Li, MD, PhD, associate professor of Family Medicine, Epidemiology & Biostatistics and associate director for Prevention Research, Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, Case Western Reserve University, is the co-investigator. Wei Xin, MD, PhD, assistant professor of Pathology, is the collaborator.

Lynn DeGregorio, president of the DeGregorio Family Foundation, based in New York City, said, "The foundation has always sought to fund research that is innovative and will be a catalyst to collaboration. The application from the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine will increase the depth and breadth of research into these malignancies, and so we were excited to be able to make this award possible."

Pizarro's funded proposal, entitled, "Role of the novel IL-1 family member, IL-33, in the gastritis-metaplasia-carcinoma sequence," was the only proposal of 24 international applicants selected for funding in the third annual DeGregorio Foundation Award for Cancers.

Stomach cancer, which caused over 10,000 deaths in the United States in 2012 according to the National Cancer Institute, is the second-most common cause of cancer-related mortality, behind only lung cancer. And less than 10 percent of patients diagnosed with esophageal cancer will survive longer than 5 years.

Today, stomach and esophageal cancers are treated as orphan diseases despite their prevalence and deadliness. Together, more than 1.3 million people will be diagnosed with an upper GI malignancy annually, according to NCI.


Contact: Christine A. Somosi
Case Western Reserve University

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