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Dr Francesco Boccellato wins a CRUK Early Detection and Diagnosis primer award to study tissue shape changes in the pre-cancerous stomach conditions, atrophic gastritis and intestinal metaplasia

One of the major risk factors for stomach cancer is chronic infection with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori. Even if the infection is diagnosed and treated successfully with antibiotics, the risk of subsequent cancer development persists.

Stomach cancer develops from the pre-cancerous conditions, atrophic gastritis and intestinal metaplasia, each of which have distinctive changes in tissue shape that can be visualized by histological analysis. While these changes can be detected, the molecular causes of the tissue re-organisation are unknown.

After obtaining promising preliminary data during his John Fell Award-funded pilot project, Dr Francesco Boccellato (Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, Oxford) has been awarded £95,500 through a Cancer Research UK Early Detection and Diagnosis primer award to investigate the molecular drivers of the tissue changes in atrophic gastritis and intestinal metaplasia. They will use a technique called spatial transcriptomics, which measures the expression of all genes in a tissue sample and, crucially, the location. Once identified, the effect of these factors will be tested using the Boccellato lab’s advanced culture model of the stomach lining called ‘mucosoids’.

The aim is that, in the future, these validated factors could be used as biomarkers to help detect and monitor these pre-cancerous conditions and their progression to cancer.