Gloved hand holding slide in front of microscope

Case Western Reserve University receives $6 million to study Barrett’s Esophagus

Funding to propel studies across six institutions

A national collaboration based at the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center (CCCC) has won a $6 million grant to extend its efforts against a particularly lethal form of esophageal cancer.

The National Cancer Institute award supports Barrett’s Esophagus Translational Research Network (BETRNet) Research Center administered by Case Western Reserve University. The research will develop a new molecular marker based method for detection of Barrett’s Esophagus that was invented at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. Caused by long-term acid reflux, Barrett’s Esophagus is a condition that increases the risk of developing cancer in the organ.

In addition to the CCCC and university medical school, the members of BETRNet include Cleveland Clinic, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Johns Hopkins University, Mayo Clinic, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Washington University in St. Louis. The network includes basic science and clinical researchers working to find new ways to identify, monitor and improve outcomes for patients at risk of Barrett’s Esophagus.

The highly competitive five-year award provides resources to investigate genetic determinants of Barrett’s Esophagus and esophageal adenocarcinoma. This year’s grant will allow the network to build on the progress of a 2011 award of $5.4 million.

“The team has been working together for several years,” said Amitabh Chak, principal investigator on the award and director of clinical research in the Division of Gastroenterology and Liver Disease at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. “This award affirms the major progress we have already made in detection, prediction, prevention, and treatment of Barrett’s Esophagus and esophageal cancer.”

Long-term acid reflux can cause Barrett’s Esophagus, a condition in which tissue lining the esophagus transforms into tissue similar to that found in the intestine. According to the National Institutes of Health, only 15 percent of patients with esophageal adenocarcinoma survive five years post-diagnosis.

Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine serves as a BETRNet Translational Research Center, focused on improving non-invasive diagnostic approaches to Barrett’s Esophagus and bringing new technology from the research laboratory to the clinic.

“During the previous award period, the team developed new methods for easy detection of Barrett’s Esophagus and identified novel molecular mechanisms that cause cancer. The team will now screen people with this new method to detect Barrett’s Esophagus and prevent the development of cancer. They will also develop new approaches for treating esophageal cancer,” Chak said.

The forthcoming studies could significantly improve currently available cancer therapeutics. Said Chak: “A non-endoscopic, easy method for identifying Barrett’s Esophagus will result in prevention or early detection of esophageal cancer. Characterizing molecular mechanisms that cause cancer will lead to better targeted approaches to effective cancer treatments.”

More information about these and other projects supported through BETRNet is available through the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center.