Hundreds of genes that are mutated in the stomach have now been identified, claims an international team of scientists. The research team was led by scientists from the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore and National Cancer Centre of Singapore.

Stomach cancer remains as the fourth most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer related deaths worldwide. Nearly 700,000 people die every year due to stomach cancer. Treatment of this deadly form of cancer has been difficult due to late detection of tumors coupled with a lack of understanding of the causes.

Most cases of stomach cancer are reported in the developing countries. Japan and Korea have the highest number of people who have this type of cancer. According to National Cancer Institute, the overall incidence of stomach cancer in the US has declined in the past 75 years.

Approximately $1.6 billion is spent in the United States each year on stomach cancer treatment.

“Until now, the genetic abnormalities that cause stomach cancers are still largely unknown, which partially explain the overall poor treatment,” said Patrick Tan, M.D., Ph.D., senior author of the study and associate professor in the Cancer and Stem Cell Biology Program at Duke-NUS.

The research team was able to identify the ‘culprit gene’ by analyzing the normal and tumor tissue from the cancer patient. State-of-the art technology was used to achieve this breakthrough.

“This technology allows us to read the DNA sequence of the genes in each of the cancer genome,” said co-senior author Steven G, Rozen, Ph.D., who heads the Computational Systems Biology and Human Genetics Laboratory in Duke- NUS.

The study is one of the first gastric cancer studies to investigate the vast majority of human genes at the ‘building-block’ level. Out of the nearly 18,000 genes that were screened, 600 genes were identified that were previously unknown to be mutated in stomach cancer.

Two of the 600 genes that were associated with stomach cancer, FAT4 and ARID1A were particularly interesting as they had the potential to cause other cancers and not just stomach cancer.

Researchers are hopeful that drugs against these targets (FAT4 and ARID1A) may someday lead to more efficient treatment of stomach tumors.