New model of esophageal cancer

In the November 1st issue of G&D, a team of scientists led by Dr. Anil Rustgi (UPENN) presents an innovative new model of esophageal cancer, which holds great promise as an experimental platform to investigate the etiology and possible treatment of this devastating disease.

“This model allows us to dissect the specific genetic alterations that are important in the initiation and progression of esophageal squamous cell cancer, which holds promise for sqamous cell cancers arising in other sites, such as the skin, lung, head and neck,” explains Dr. Rustgi.

There are 2 main types of esophageal cancer: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) is the third most common cancer of the digestive tract and the seventh leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. It is a highly malignant cancer and generally carries a poor prognosis, owing to its predominantly late detection.

Dr. Rustigi and colleagues developed a tissue-engineered, organotypic 3D culture system of esophageal squamous cell cancer. They found that ESCC results from a combination of genetic mutations (namely, EGFR overexpression, hTERT activation and p53 mutation) as well as changes in the tumor microenvironment.

Dr. Rustgi emphasizes that “we have found that altering the stromal fibroblasts can influence the extent of tumor cell migration and invasion. Thus, previously underappreciated, it is the interplay of tumor cells and fibroblasts that has great meaning on how cancer arises and progresses.”

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