Esophageal Cancer ‘Cell of Origin’ Identified


Source: Columbia University Medical Center

Summary: Researchers have identified basal progenitor cells in the upper digestive tract which can give rise to Barrett’s esophagus, a precursor to esophageal cancer.


In Barrett’s esophagus, the tissue lining of the esophagus is replaced by the tissue similar to the lining of the intestine. Most people with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) have the chances of developing Barrett’s esophagus, which in turn may develop in to a rare cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma. Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center identified basal progenitor cells in the upper digestive tract which can give rise to Barrett’s esophagus, a precursor to esophageal cancer. This is considered as the fastest growing form of cancer in the U.S and discovery of this “cell of origin” may help in developing more precise screening tools, therapies for Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal adenocarcinoma. The findings were published in the online edition of Nature.

Esophageal Adenocarcinoma

Arrows point to a population of unique basal progenitor cells (p63+ KRT7+ Claudin18-) located at the equivalent of the gastroesophageal junction in a mouse model. Credit: Columbia University Medical Center

The Incidence of esophageal cancer has risen by 800% over the past 4 decades and the progress is very little in its screening and treatment. If not detected early, patients with esophageal cancer survive not more than a year after diagnosis. Researchers genetically altered mice to promote the development of Barrett’s esophagus. They then examined the mice’s gastroesophageal junction tissue and found unique basal progenitor cells (early descendants of stem cells). Then used a technique called lineage tracing to determine if these basal progenitor cells (tagged with fluorescent protein) can give rise to Barrett’s esophagus.

Dr. Que, said, “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.”


More Information: Ming Jiang et al, “Transitional basal cells at the squamous-columnar junction generate Barrett’s oesophagus”, Nature (2017). DOI: 10.1038/nature24269


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