The importance of random mitochondrial mutations during disease progression in Barrett's Oesophagus

Key Information

Cancer type: 
Oesophageal
Research Institution: 
Trinity & St James's
Grant Amount: 
€116,400
Start date: 
October 1, 2011
End date: 
September 30, 2014

Scientific Project Abstract

This research project looks at cancer of the oesophagus. The oesophagus, commonly referred to as the food-pipe, is the tube connecting the mouth to the stomach. In the common condition of heartburn, the food-pipe is exposed to acid and bile from the stomach and this can cause changes in the structure/shape of the cells lining the food pipe. This change in cell structure is called Barrett's oesophagus which can over time turn into oesophageal cancer. However, not all patients with Barrett's oesophagus will definitely develop cancer. Currently, all patients that have Barrett's oesophagus are examined on a regular basis (usually annually) by way of endoscopy, which is a camera test. This camera test allows the doctor to look inside the oesophagus, to see if Barrett's oesophagus is still there, and to take biopsies of the lining of the food-pipe in order to make sure there is no cancer present. This research project will look at Barrett's oesophagus patients and find those patients who are most at risk of developing oesophageal cancer. We will be looking for specific changes (or mutations) in mitochondrial DNA taken from Barrett's tissue. The mitochondria are known as the power-houses of the cell, generating energy for our cells. Mitochondrial DNA in our cells is more likely to have mutations, as it is less able to fix itself when injury occurs to cells. Also, because mitochondria are the cells' power-houses they are exposed to a lot of damage from different sources. The changes in this DNA have been linked to cancers, but not to Barrett's oesophagus leading to oesophageal cancer. This project will examine multiple defects in the mitochondria from different stages of this disease with the ultimate aim to select those patients at greatest risk of oesophageal cancer development and ultimately the patients to target for cancer prevention. This could mean, in the future, not all patients with Barrett's oesophagus will need regular camera tests and biopsies, they could simply be screened for the level of defects in the mitochondria using the novel approaches we use in this project.

For the non-scientist

One-line description: 
Identifying patients at risk of developing oesophageal cancer through examination of DNA mutations
What this project involves: 

When the oesophagus is exposed to acid and bile from the stomach, a structural change in the cells lining the oesophagus can develop, called Barrett's oesophagus. In some patients, this condition can develop into oesophageal cancer' however there is currently no way of predicting the patients in which this will occur. This project aims to identify Barrett's oesophagus patients which are likely to develop oesophageal cancer through examination of mutations in the mitochondrial DNA of Barrett's tissue.