ECAN’s President and CEO Mindy Mintz Mordecai recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Adam Bass, co-chair of the Esophageal Cancer project of The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) about the benefits brought by TCGA’s work in Esophageal Cancer and what needs to happen next! Thank you to Target Cancer for hosting the fascinating tour of Dr. Bass’s lab that made this interview possible.

Point of Pride

ECAN is incredibly happy and proud to share news of the recent publication of research from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) study of Esophageal Cancer in the journal Nature. This project is very important to ECAN. It was the first advocacy project that ECAN took on.  ECAN made it a priority because we worried that Esophageal Cancer would once again be left behind as scientific advances were made available in so many other diseases.  The National Cancer Institute (NCI) was expanding its TCGA pilot project just as ECAN was launched in 2009.  When we discovered that NCI had not included Esophageal Cancer on the list of 20 cancer genomes it would map, we began a campaign to get EC on the list.  We believed genomic research was critical to advances in treatment and prevention of our so-often-overlooked and underfunded cancer.

Campaign to Make an Important Difference

When we inquired about why EC was not included, we were told that if we could provide the tissue samples needed to conduct the research, Esophageal Cancer could be on the list. The doctors on ECAN’s Board of Directors met to consider whether our organization was up to the challenge of finding the necessary tissue samples.  Though they understood it was a large undertaking, the medical professionals advised their colleagues on the Board that we could do it, though it would not be easy.  When ECAN indicated to the NCI that we would take on that task of collecting the tissue samples, we were informed that NCI no longer had the budget available to start the project.

The Little Advocacy Engine that Could

At the time, ECAN was a fledgling organization, barely a year old with less than $40,000 in the bank and staff comprised of one full-time volunteer.  Despite these hurdles, in the spring of 2011, the ECAN Board of Directors bravely and forcefully pledged to not only find the tissue samples necessary to complete the research but to also raise the $500,000 needed to begin the work.

By the summer of 2011, NCI found the resources to launch the project within its own budget.  But, according to the lead researcher for the Esophageal Cancer project, Dr. Adam Bass, ECAN played a key role in bringing the Esophageal Cancer mapping project to fruition. “I commend ECAN for their tireless advocacy that helped make this project a reality,” he said.

Progress Worth the Wait

ECAN’s Founder, President and CEO Mindy Mintz Mordecai was asked to serve on the Disease Working Group overseeing the project.   She was honored to join the nation’s top Esophageal Cancer researchers who dedicated substantial time and energy toward making this a successful and significant study.  Getting sufficient numbers of the properly stored tissue samples proved to be a daunting and lengthy task.  But the research was completed, submitted for publication, peer reviewed, edited and published on January 4, 2017.

The findings are incredibly important on many levels and will lead to better, more exact treatment for patients in the future.   We hope all ECAN supporters will feel a sense of pride about your work with us and the role you played in making this important research possible.    For those who wish to read a summary of the research findings, click here.  The full study can be found at this link.