Targeting Fusion Genes in Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal Cancer
$2,145 raised
of $5,000 goal
Funding has ended

About the Researcher

Michael Korn, M.D. Associate Professor in Residence
University of California, San Francisco
Department of Medicine | UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

Read Michael's Story

Project Timeline:

June 2013

1 Year

What your donation will fund:

  • $5,000 raised:
    PCR validation of fusion genes in cell lines.
  • $25,000 raised:
    Analysis of human tissue samples.
  • $35,000 raised:
    Design and evaluation of treatments targeting fusion genes.
  • $50,000 raised:
    Analysis of biological function of fusion genes.

Project donors:

  • Brendan McAdams
  • susan swansburg
  • Amanda Van Epps
  • Alan Olifson
  • Adil Lalani
  • Olle Eriksson
  • Julian Finkelstein
  • Anonymous
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  • Thomas Terbell
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Project abstract

Unnoticed by many, an epidemic involving a devastating type of cancer is developing: Esophageal cancer rates are rising rapidly in the Western world.

The disease is a merciless killer: of the 17,990 patients who will be diagnosed in 2013, 15,210 are expected to succumb to the disease. Unfortunately, surgery is the only treatment that can lead to a cure, and frequently only after initial treatments with harsh chemotherapy and radiation.

Smarter and more effective treatment strategies are urgently needed.

Currently, very little is known about the molecular changes found in esophageal cancer cells that could be targeted with tailored treatments. Using advanced DNA sequencing technology, we have discovered previously unknown changes that occur in the DNA of esophageal cancer cells that cause the fusion, or combining, of two genes. This combination, in turn, activates other genes that make cancer cells divide and survive. With this project proposal, we will confirm that these mutations indeed exist in human esophageal cancer. Furthermore, we will explore the possibility of killing esophageal cancer cells by specifically targeting these fusion genes and investigate how these genes make cancer cells grow and survive.

We expect that results from these studies will set the stage for the development of new and personalized treatment strategies for patients with esophageal cancer.  

Why is this important?

With this project, we are pursuing an entirely new strategy of treating esophageal cancer. We expect to demonstrate the existence of new fusion genes in this disease that can be targeted with existing or new drugs in a personalized fashion. Ultimately, we aim to reduce suffering caused by this disease and to prolong the lives of patients with esophageal cancer while preserving and improving their quality of life.  

Who will benefit from the results of this project?

This study will directly benefit the approximately 20,000 patients who will be newly diagnosed with esophageal cancer in the US this year. Worldwide, the rate of esophageal cancer is much higher, and an estimated 410,000 patients die from the disease every year. 

Michael Korn, M.D. Associate Professor in Residence

Scientific research is not only my passion, it is my quest to reduce suffering and save lives. I work knowing first-hand, the agony that cancer causes in individuals and their family's lives.
I was largely raised by my grandmother in a small village in Germany. She was the warm-hearted center of the family who fostered my appreciation for science, arts and music. When I was 17, she developed esophageal cancer. I saw her dwindle away in front of our eyes, in pain and unable to swallow. After several months of agony and with no help available, she was finally relieved from her suffering. Out of this tragedy and loss, I recognized the importance of following my passion for science so that I might help prevent the same suffering among future generations.
After graduating from the University of Dusseldorf Medical School, I specialized in medical oncology and became keenly involved in cancer research. By becoming a gastroenterologist and performing endoscopies on my patients with esophageal cancer, I continue to witness the devastating consequences of this disease. A key event in my professional life occured in 1996 when I moved to the US and began working to develop new cancer treatments with Frank McCormick, one of the leading cancer researchers in the world. All these experiences have allowed me to develop a deep understanding of the problems and to focus my research on questions that might help improve treatment outcomes for esophageal cancer. 
My work is driven by one key revelation: every cancer case is different – both at the clinical level and in the tumor's molecular composition. I am already treating my patients in a very individualized fashion, utilizing all available analytic methods to match patients with the best possible treatments. However, only a small fraction of patients with esophageal cancer can be cured: in 2013, we expect 17,990 patients to be newly diagnosed with esophageal cancer of whom 15,210 are expected to die. Many patients continue to suffer, just as my grandmother did, which drives my quest to discover new strategies to defeat this devastating disease.

Education & Training

Year Institution Degree Field
1997 UCSF Postdoctoral Fellow Cancer Research Institute - (F. McCormick)
1996 UCSF Cancer Center Postdoctoral Fellow Laboratory Medicine - (F. Waldman)
1996 West German Cancer Center, University of Essen, Medical School, Essen, Germany Physician-in-Training GI Oncology
1994 West German Cancer Center, University of Essen, Medical School, Essen, Germany Physician-in-Training Medical Oncology
1993 Philipps University of Marburg, Germany MD Medicine
1992 Ev. Krankenhaus Dinslaken, Germany Physician-in-Training Internal Medicine / Gastroenterology
1991 Ev. Krankenhaus Dinslaken, Germany Physician-in-Training Internal Medicine
1988 Heinrich-Heine Univ., Düsseldorf, Germany Approbation as Physician Medicine
1987 University of Bern, Switzerland Internship Medicine
1984 Philipps University, Marburg, Germany Continuing Education Medicine

Awards & Leadership

Year Award/Position
2009 Helen Diller Family Quality Award
2008 Cancer League Research Award
2008 Co-Director, Center for Molecular Oncology, UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center
2008 Tip Your Heart Foundation Award
2006 Associate Professor, Gastroenterology and Medical Oncology
2005 UCSF THANKS Star Award
2003 Founder, TarThera, Inc.
2002 Hellman Family Award
2001 Hellman Family Award
2000 American Cancer Society Individual Research Award
2000 UCSF REAC Award
1996 Mildred-Scheel Research Fellowship, Bonn, Germany


Feb 26, 2014

Thank you all for your generous support of our crowdfunding campaign! With your contributions, we have significantly expanded our collection of esophageal cancer cell lines. Cancer cell lines are divided and grown in the laboratory and are used to study the biology of cancer and to test cancer treatments. Our expanded collection of cell lines will be subjected to DNA sequence analysis and will help us gain further understanding of esophageal cancer and identify potential fusion genes. To learn more about my lab at the University of California, San Francisco, please visit http://cancer.ucsf.edu/research/korn-lab.  

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