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U of M Researchers Awarded Grant to Study the Development of Esophageal Cancer

The Divisions of Cancer Prevention (DCP) and Cancer Biology (DCB) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a $6 million grant to investigators at the University of Michigan to continue support for a Research Center in the Barrett’s Esophagus Translational Research Network (BETRNet) — this consortium studies the connection between Barrett’s esophagus and risk for developing esophageal cancer.
Esophageal cancer is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths worldwide. Despite the rates of some cancers falling over the past 25 years, the frequency of esophageal adenocarcinoma continues to grow rapidly.
Barrett's esophagus is most often diagnosed in people who have long-term gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. Although a number of factors that trigger the transformation of Barrett’s esophagus into esophageal adenocarcinoma have been identified, their utility in understanding and preventing the progression of the cancer has not been broadly demonstrated.
BETRNet is taking a multi-institutional approach to solving the problem by pooling their resources to better understand how Barrett’s esophagus develops to cancer. The Research Centers are headquartered at Columbia University, University of Michigan, and Case Western Reserve University, and the coordinating center is located at Vanderbilt University.
“We think this collaborative approach is most meaningful because we’re able to combine our scientific expertise, patient access, and our core facilities to accelerate the discovery of biological events underling esophageal adenocarcinoma,” says Thomas Wang, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Internal Medicine, Mechanical Engineering, and Biomedical Engineering at U of M. “We hope to translate our findings into clinical practice for improved detection and prevention.” 
Wang and his colleague David G. Beer, Ph.D. in the Department of Surgery, Section of Thoracic Surgery at U of M are focused on developing novel molecular imaging methodologies to visualize cell surface targets that are highly overexpressed in cancer pre-cursors.
“Because the esophageal lesions are flat and not raised, it is not as easy as detecting polyps in colonoscopy,” says Beer. “That is why detecting early esophageal cancer with fluorescent probes to highly expressed cell surface proteins are necessary."
Wang says the “red-flag” approach is intended to guide physicians by prioritizing tissue biopsy, thereby reducing over diagnosis and distinguishing lethal cancers from non-lethal disease.
“With this grant, we have the opportunity to ask and answer some of the big questions about the pathogenesis of esophageal adenocarcinoma,” says Wang.
Research reported in this press release is supported by the NIH under award number [U54 CA163059].

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