A*STAR scientists identify role of key stem cell factor in gastric cancer progression


Understanding stem cell factors in injury repair and Cancer

Last month, scientists from A*STAR’s Institute of Medical Biology (IMB) have identified a key biological role for the Lgr5, a protein present mainly in the adult stem cells of many tissue types, as a key driving factor in gastric cancer.

Like other organs in the body, the stomach is constantly exposed to a variety of stress factors. Whether it’s a kick from your Tai Chi instructor or a wild night at the pub, mechanical stress, food habits and alcohol can influence the health of your stomach. A specialized set of cells- adult stem cells help to maintain the health and functionality of the stomach. Adult stem cells help to fuel the process of tissue renewal in the stomach and repair damage caused by stressors.

Lgr5 is specifically expressed in adult stem cells of many organs.Identification of Lgr5 as a marker characterizing stem cells has driven major advances in the understanding of stem cell biology for clinical applications.

Gastric Cancer is an important health priority for Singapore

According to the World Health Organization, gastric cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer globally. In Singapore, gastric cancer is among the top 10 most common cancers for males and females. The most common cause is infection by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), which accounts for more than 60% of cases. Certain types of H. pylori have greater risks than others.

The discovery of Lgr5 expressing Chief cells as a key driver of gastric cancer represents a significant breakthrough in the study of gastric cancer biology and delivers crucial insight into gastric cancer development that should prove invaluable for developing more effective treatments in the clinic.

The two and half year research project was led by Dr. Marc Leushacke, Research Scientist at IMB, under the tutelage of Professor Nick Barker, Research Director. Using a fate mapping study, the team discovered a new population of Lgr5-expressing cells within the lining of the major digestive region of the stomach and characterized the role of these Lgr5-expressing cells during normal conditions, injury repair, and cancer.

The team discovered that Lgr5-expressing Chief cells, function as adult stem cells helping to repair the stomach lining after injury and are also the key cell type involved in gastric cancer following mutations.


 “The origin of gastric cancer is controversially discussed in the field. Our study definitively identifies Lgr5-labeled corpus cells at the gland base as a major gastric cancer origin and therefore provides clarity to the ongoing discussion. We hope that these findings will contribute to translatable clinical outcomes in the future.”- said Professor Barker

For more information, please refer to the original paper Lgr5-Expressing Chief Cells Drive Epithelial Regeneration and Cancer in the Oxyntic Stomachpublished in Nature Cell Biology on 6 June 2017.

  1. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs297/en/
  2. https://www.nccs.com.sg/patientcare/whatiscancer/cancerStatistics/Pages/Home.aspx