Researchers at the Hudson Institute are investigating the connection between the bacteria H. pylori and the development of stomach cancer. H. pylori, short for Helicobacter pylori, is a bacteria that colonizes the stomach and is known to be linked to the development of stomach cancer. It is estimated that more than half of the global population is infected with H. pylori, making it one of the most common bacterial infections.
The study, led by Professor Richard Ferrero, Head of Hudson Institute’s Gastrointestinal Infection and Inflammation Research Group, focuses on the activity of cytokines, which are small signaling proteins that play a crucial role in regulating various functions in the body.
The research team discovered that a specific cytokine, IL-18, previously believed to promote inflammation in H. pylori infection, actually plays a protective role in reducing tissue damage and maintaining homeostasis. This finding could have significant implications for the treatment and prevention of diseases of the stomach lining, such as gastritis, as well as stomach cancer, which is known to be associated with H. pylori infection.
In a pre-clinical model, the researchers found that the conversion of IL-18 into its active form is essential in reducing tissue damage. Professor Ferrero explains, “We now need to determine whether it is also important in preventing the severe effects of H. pylori infection in humans.”
The research team is also working towards developing a vaccine against H. pylori infection, which could have a significant impact on the incidence of stomach cancer worldwide. H. pylori is typically contracted during childhood and can remain in the body for years, causing inflammation of the stomach lining known as gastritis.
While gastritis caused by H. pylori often does not cause any symptoms, it can lead to peptic ulcers affecting the stomach or the first section of the small intestine, known as the duodenum. However, the most concerning consequence of an H. pylori infection is the increased risk of developing stomach cancer.
Studies have shown that individuals infected with H. pylori are up to six times more likely to develop stomach cancer compared to those without the infection. H. pylori causes chronic inflammation in the stomach, which can lead to changes in the cells lining the stomach and increase the risk of cancer. One way this occurs is through H. pylori induction of a cytokine called IL-1b, which promotes inflammation and suppresses acid production in the stomach.
By understanding the mechanisms behind H. pylori’s impact on the stomach lining and the body’s immune response, the researchers at the Hudson Institute hope to develop strategies to prevent and treat H. pylori infection, reducing the risk of stomach cancer.
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