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Learn about Barrett's Esophagus

Studies Shed New Light on Esophageal Cancer and Barrett’s Esophagus

Every year researchers make exciting new progress towards a better understanding of the causes and risk factors for esophageal cancer and Barrett’s esophagus. As 2014 comes to close let’s take a look at two new studies that may have an important impact on how we detect disease in the esophagus in the future.

First, researchers at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine believe they have identified stem cells in the deep layers of the esophagus and are speculating that abnormalities in those cells could be the start of tissue changes that occur in people with Barrett’s esophagus. In a study published by the journal Cell Reports, Dr. Eric Lagasse and his team describe a population of stem cells that divide slowly when compared to other cells in the inner layers of the esophagus which typically divide on a weekly basis and eventually become the lining of the esophagus.

“The esophageal lining must renew regularly as cells slough off into the gastrointestinal tract,” said Dr. Lagasse. “Until now, we haven’t been able to determine whether all the cells in the deeper layers are the same or if there is a subpopulation of stem cells there.”

The research team plans to examine human esophageal tissue to see if they can find stem cell dysfunction in people with Barrett’s esophagus.

In a separate study published by the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center made a new discovery that could help identify people who have an increased risk of progressing from Barrett’s esophagus to esophageal cancer which may lead to earlier detection.

The research team found that higher levels of two inflammatory biomarkers are associated with an increased risk of developing cancer. The biomarkers – C-reactive protein and interleukin-6 – could potentially be measured to determine high risk patients. The researchers note further study is needed to confirm the role of inflammation in esophageal cancer.

Cellvizio images show microscopic views of the cells in the esophagus, in real time.

These studies are important because they are helping to define what physicians can look for to identify Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer. If dysfunctional stem cells or inflammatory biomarkers can be found early, it may lead to quicker detection and diagnosis. Cellvizio is enabling doctors to view tissue at the microscopic level, in real time. Studies like this only work to improve our understanding of what we should be looking for, and now we have the advanced imaging technology to do so.

As we move into 2015 we will continue to keep you updated on important developments in Barrett’s esophagus research that may lead to improved techniques for detection and treatment.