Research Identifies TNF as Therapeutic Target for Stomach Cancer

A team of researchers from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI) in Australia recently made strides in stomach cancer research. While searching for a better understanding of how and why this cancer develops, along with how it progresses, researchers uncovered a potential therapeutic target. Thy found that inhibiting a pro-inflammatory cytokine called Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF) prevented stomach cancer progression. Read the full findings published in Gastroenterology.


To begin, researchers developed a laboratory model of stomach cancer. Although this is neither a human nor animal model, the laboratory model is pretty true-to-form in mirroring what happens during the cancer process. Researchers found that this cancer contains high cytokine levels. Cytokines are pro-inflammatory proteins that play a role in immune response and inflammation. However, increased inflammation can actually lead to the development of stomach cancer. In particular, researchers found four specific cytokines present in the model.

To determine the impact of each cytokine, researchers systematically removed one at a time from the model. Ultimately, this uncovered how TNF, in particular, spurs the cancer’s progression. However, removing TNF prevented cancer progression. According to ScienceDirect, TNF is:

a multifunctional cytokine secreted primarily by macrophages, natural killer (NK) cells, and lymphocytes.

Currently, TNF inhibitors already exist. In fact, they have been shown to be efficacious in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This means that not only is TNF a potential therapeutic target in this realm, but current drugs may exist which can be repurposed for treatment.

Stomach Cancer

Also known as gastric cancer, stomach cancer occurs when cancerous cells form within the stomach’s lining. Our stomach wall has three tissue layers: the inner mucosal layer, the middle muscularis layer, and the outer serosal layer. Cellular DNA mutations spur the development of stomach cancer. Generally, this specific cancer begins in the mucosal layer and progresses outward. Risk factors include H. pylori infection, obesity, smoking, gastrointestinal reflux disease, family history, old age, and a high-sodium diet. Most patients are over 65. Additionally, males are more impacted than females. An estimated 1 million people worldwide receive a stomach cancer diagnosis yearly. Because it is not generally discovered until later stages, this is typically fatal within 5 years.

There are multiple forms of stomach cancer, including leiomyosarcoma, squamous cell carcinoma, carcinoid and stroll tumors, adenocarcinoma, and lymphoma. Symptoms include:

  • Chronic heartburn
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Bloody stool
  • Stomach pain
  • Feeling full or bloated, even if only eating small portions
  • Indigestion
  • Difficulty swallowing

Learn more here.

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn has an educational background in writing and marketing. She firmly believes in the power of writing in amplifying voices, and looks forward to doing so for the rare disease community.

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