Local researchers Awarded Grant from the DeGregorio Family Foundation for Gastric and Esophageal Cancer Research & Education


January 17th, 2014

(Boston) –Tony Godfrey, PhD, associate chair of research in the department of surgery at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and Boston Medical Center (BMC), was recently awarded a two-year, $225,000 grant from the DeGregorio Family Foundation for Gastric and Esophageal Cancer Research & Education. Godfrey, who is also an associate professor of surgery at BUSM, will use the funding to study Barrett’s Esophagus (BE). People with BE are at increased risk for a type of cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma.

Esophageal adenocarcinoma is an aggressive tumor that is often diagnosed after it has already spread to other sites. Currently, the only way to detect esophageal adenocarcinoma is with an endoscopy, which is an invasive procedure that requires a hospital visit, sedation and a day off work.

The research team is developing a new approach for esophageal cancer detection that could be performed simply in a primary care physician’s office or even at home. The approach uses a sponge-containing capsule attached to a string. When swallowed, the sponge expands in the stomach and can then be pulled back through the esophagus and out of the mouth. Esophageal cells are rubbed off onto the sponge as it is pulled through the esophagus and can be examined to look for cancerous changes.

“Our project, clinically conducted in our Barrett’s Esophagus Program at Boston Medical Center, will attempt to find cancer cells using a sensitive method to detect mutations that are known to cause esophageal adenocarcinoma,” said Godfrey, who is also principal investigator of the study. “If successful, this project may lead to more wide-spread esophageal cancer screening, earlier detection of tumors and improved survival,” he added. “We are grateful for the funding provided by the DeGregorio Family Foundation which will allow us to perform vital experiments to determine if this approach is feasible.”

Lincoln Stein, MD, PhD, from the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) and Virginia Litle MD, director, Barrett’s Esophageal Program at BMC, are collaborating with Godfrey on this project.

The DeGregorio Family Foundation seeks to promote and facilitate education and collaborative research on the pathogenesis, early diagnostic and treatment of upper gastrointestinal malignancies. It was founded in 2006 after a tenth member of the DeGregorio family succumbed to stomach cancer and was found to have possessed a rare gene that causes the disease and other common cancers. Her surviving siblings, who both tested negative for the gene, created the Foundation to raise funds for research on the hereditary and non-hereditary varieties of stomach and esophageal cancer. Since its inception, the Foundation has made tremendous progress in providing the private support needed to learn more about these cancers, which has had an enormous global impact.

Founder Lynn DeGregorio looks forward towards the advancement in early detection and treatment of these diseases.