Researchers found a potential cause of Barrett’s esophagus

Barrett's esophagus

Barrett’s esophagus

Barrett’s esophagus is a parent to esophageal cancer. Columbia University researchers identified the tumor cells in the upper digestive tract in humans. Esophageal cancer is the fastest growing form of cancer in the United States.

In Barrett’s esophagus, some tissues in the tube connecting the mouth to the stomach. Those tissues causes heartburn and difficulty swallowing.

Most cases arise from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a chronic condition in which acid from the stomach vomites into the lower part of the food pipe.

In some cases, Barrett’s esophagus can develop into a rare cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma. Although this cancer is rare, it is the most common form of esophageal cancer.

Early detection is the key to prolonging survival in esophageal cancer, at present, 20% of patients survive longer than 5 years after diagnosis.

Scientists explore the origins of Barrett’s esophagus have put forward models based on at least five different cell types. However, none of these experiment model’s mimics all the characteristics of the condition.

Gastroesophageal junction

Study lead author Jianwen Que and his colleagues genetically altered mice to promote the development of Barrett’s esophagus. The researchers examine the gastroesophageal junction, the area where the food pipe joins the stomach. At the gastroesophageal junction, the tissue that lines the digestive tract, changes gradually.

Que said, all known cells in this tissue remained the same, but we found a previously unidentified zone populated by unique basal progenitor cells. Progenitor cells early successors of stem cells that can differentiate into one or more specific cell types.

Dr. Que’s team performed a lineage tracing technique to determine these unique basal progenitor cells, tagged with a fluorescent protein, can give rise to Barrett’s esophagus.  The researchers used several mouse models to show that bile acid reflux or genetic changes to promote expansion of these cells, leading to the development of Barrett’s esophagus.

The researchers replicated these findings in “organoids” grown from unique basal progenitor cells sampled from the gastroesophageal junctions of mice and humans.

However, scientists plan to develop therapies that target these cells to activate acid reflux.

More information: [Nature]