Research Partnership Program created in Gastric Cancer

This activity aims to strengthen this area of biomedical research at the University, within an interdisciplinary and excellence frame.

November 13, 2017

Five academic units are involved in the Research Partnership Program (PIA) in Gastric Cancer, set in motion by our University, in order to generate basic and applied knowledge that will contribute to improve the survival of patients who have developed the disease or are at risk of presenting it.

This is a new Interdisciplinary Research of Excellence Program (PIEI), led by Dr. Nelson Brown, from the School of Medicine, which also brings together researchers from the School of Civil Engineering in Bioinformatics, the Faculty of Health Sciences, the Institute of Chemistry of Natural Resources and the Institute of Mathematics and Physics.

The basis of the PIA is the high prevalence of gastric cancer, which is the leading cause of death by cancer in Chile and, in addition, it has one of the highest mortality rates in the Maule and Bio Bio Regions. Also, the poor prognosis of the disease associated with factors such as an asymptomatic initial evolution results in a late diagnosis. Therefore, one of the main challenges is to ensure that patients receive treatment, when the survival rate is still high.

In that context, the program hopes to contribute knowledge generated through a multidisciplinary approach to various aspects of gastric cancer. One of these is related to the development of molecular markers that can be used in the early detection of the disease.

In this regard, the researcher of the program, Rodrigo Moore, from the Department of Clinical Biochemistry and Immunohematology, explained that today, diagnosing a patient with gastric cancer requires an endoscopy, "an invasive, complex procedure, which requires that the staff who performs it has high qualifications. The idea is to reach a biomarker, something simple, to measure it in the plasma – the way glucose is measured, for example- a molecule that may indicate an increased risk of getting cancer, and we are focused in that ".

For his part, the director of the PIA explained that the program consists of three main lines of research, "one is basic research in gastric cancer; the second has to do with the development of some molecules that could serve as therapeutic agents and the third line has to do with population and epidemiological aspects of gastric cancer".

FIC Project

In addition, a project is being developed, joined to the program and funded by the Regional Government through the Innovation Fund for Competitiveness (FIC) oriented precisely to the identification of early markers of gastric cancer. "It has two phases, the first is analysis of endoscopic biopsies taken to healthy volunteers living in a high-risk area and correlating these analyzes with the histopathological diagnosis, in addition to the realization of immunohistochemical studies," he said. This is done, he explained, to determine the levels of some autophagy markers, a process that implies that the cells "self-digest".

"We suspect that these markers are elevated in some gastric lesions that are not cancer yet, but which may be considered to be pre-neoplastic lesions," said Nelson Brown.

The volunteers are a group of 165 people living in the rural area of the Molina County, one of the places with the highest prevalence of gastric cancer.

In addition, in collaboration with Dr. Alejandro Corvalán, from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, blood samples are taken on these same patients in order to analyze some of the markers (previously developed in the PUC) to see if there is any correlation between the histopathological diagnosis and the levels of these markers.

With regard to other research program, the director of the PIA indicated that the role of cellular aging in carcinogenesis is being studied, "namely, how cells acquire the capacity to divide in an uncontrolled way and may invade neighboring tissues".

Nelson Brown said that there are several collaborative projects with the Institute of Chemistry and he mentioned that "Doctor Ramiro Araya has several compounds that are being used for therapeutic purposes in other models of cancer; they are molecules that specifically attach to the mitochondria and thus alter the metabolism and kill or stop the growth of the cells, and these molecules we are also going to try in gastric cancer cell lines".

On the other hand, he stressed that the new program aims to strengthen this area of biomedical research at the University of Talca which is a relatively new in this, and the idea is that the resources provided by the PIA are a platform to apply for projects of external financing from Conicyt and, finally, to the possible extent in three years to be able to apply to a research ring, also from Conicyt ".

"The idea is that these resources not only be used to perform the day-to-day research, but that they mean a sort of platform that allows us to apply to greater resources," emphasized the director of the PIA.