Early detection of gastric cancer

The 2 by Asst Prof Chen (left) and Prof Tan could facilitate early detection and better treatment of gastric cancer

Researchers from the Cancer Science Institute of Singapore (CSI Singapore) at NUS have discovered that changes in ribonucleic acid (RNA) sequences are closely linked to the development of gastric cancer. Additional research into this connection may potentially contribute towards earlier detection and better treatment of the deadly condition. The findings were first published in Gastroenterology in June.

RNA is an intermediate product between deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and the protein coded by DNA. It serves as a messenger and during message transmission, undergoes a series of changes known as RNA editing. This process can potentially lead to uncontrolled or disordered transfer of DNA information, resulting in an altered gene product with cancer-causing qualities. The research team, headed by Assistant Professor Polly Chen and Professor Patrick Tan, found that RNA editing, which occurs more frequently in early stages of the disease, can be detected in precancerous and premalignant tissue samples. This suggests that RNA editing levels, obtainable through a biopsy, could help significantly in identifying individuals at risk for gastric cancer, even during the disease’s early stages.

Asst Prof Chen shared that most molecular studies on gastric cancer tended to focus on the alterations in DNA sequences. “Our team is the first to conduct a comprehensive analysis demonstrating that changes in RNA sequences, caused by the differentially expressed RNA editing enzymes ADAR1 and ADAR2 in gastric tumours, may serve as a novel driving force for gastric cancer,” she said.

“The utmost value of this discovery stems from its potential to translate into molecular therapy, given that gastric cancer is prevalent in Asia and is one of the most common and deadliest cancers worldwide,” said Prof Tan, who is also from the Duke-NUS Medical School and Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS). The team will further investigate the key RNA editing events driving gastric cancer development and explore safe and efficient methods to correct this process, he added.

The project involved scientists and clinicians from the Singapore Gastric Cancer Consortium, GIS, NUS, National University Health System, as well as Samsung Medical Center and Yonsei Cancer Center in South Korea.

See press release.