Barrett’s Esophagus ‘Cell of Origin’ May Improve Prevention

01. 26. 2018

Barrett’s esophagus is a complication of chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Over time, acid reflux can damage the lining of the esophagus and cause it to resemble intestinal tissue. This can increase symptoms of heartburn and make it difficult to swallow.

Developing Barrett’s esophagus can increase the risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma, the most common type of esophageal cancer. In the past 40 years, esophageal adenocarcinoma has increased by 800 percent, making it the fastest growing form of cancer in the United States. Unfortunately, screening and treatment methods have not kept pace. Cancer of the esophagus is particularly aggressive, and patients usually survive less than a year if the disease is not detected in the early stages. 

CUMC Finds “Cell of Origin” in Barrett’s Esophagus

A group of researchers from Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) recently made a groundbreaking advancement that could change the course of treatment for Barrett’s esophagus. The team identified cells in the upper digestive tract that they refer to as the “cells of origin” for Barrett’s esophagus. Knowing where to look for the cells of origin could help scientists create more sophisticated screening for Barrett’s esophagus and prevent esophageal adenocarcinoma.

Jianwen Que, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of medicine at CUMC, led the study with his colleague Ming Jiang, Ph.D., associate research scientist in CUMC’s Department of Medicine and first author of the paper. The team genetically engineered mice to develop Barrett’s esophagus, and they inspected the mice’s gastroesophageal junction tissue for changes. Dr. Que said the team discovered “a previously unidentified zone populated by unique basal progenitor cells.” Progenitor cells are early descendants of stem cells that can specialize into one or more specific cell types.

“Now that we know the cell of origin for Barrett’s esophagus, the next step is to develop therapies that target these cells or the signaling pathways that are activated by acid reflux,” said Dr. Que (source: Medical News Today).

Related Articles:

The Genetic Link to Barrett’s Esophagus
Who is at Risk for Esophageal Cancer?

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