VICC’s Correa Honored with AACR Lectureship

April 13, 2012 | Dagny Stuart

Pelayo Correa, M.D.

Pelayo Correa, M.D., professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunulogy, has been recognized by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and its Minorities in Cancer Research membership group with the Jane Cooke Wright Lectureship.

Correa holds the Anne Potter Wilson chair in cancer research in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition.

The AACR-MICR-Jane Cooke Wright Lectureship was established in 2006 to give recognition to an outstanding scientist who has made contributions to the field of cancer research and who has, through leadership or by example, furthered the advancement of minority investigators in cancer research.

Correa received the award and presented the lecture, “Gastric cancer: An infectious disease” during the AACR 2012 Annual Meeting, in Chicago.

Correa’s research centers on the epidemiology of gastric cancer, the second leading cause of cancer-related mortalities worldwide. Much of his research involves investigating the relationship between Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infections and the onset of stomach cancer.

His interest in gastric cancers began in the 1960s when he noticed that the incidence of stomach cancer in his native country of Colombia was far greater within subpopulations that lived in high-altitude areas of the Andes Mountains than among those who lived along the Pacific coast. In an effort to understand this occurrence, he started collecting biopsy specimens from affected individuals and began to characterize the progression of the disease.

Correa demonstrated that the progression to gastric cancer begins with a wave of inflammation within the stomach (gastritis), followed by loss of glands (atrophy) and intestinal metaplasia, and dysplasia.

Eventually, this process progresses to invasive stomach cancer. This multi-step transition from stomach inflammation to cancer has since been termed the “Correa Cascade,” a tribute to the extensive studies conducted by Correa to define the variable stages of gastric cancer onset and progression.

Correa and his colleagues are currently examining the effects of variable strains of H. pylori on the development of gastric cancer in ethnic populations worldwide. The bacterial strains can be traced to their ancestral origin. Those with African ancestry are less carcinogenic than those of European origin.

These studies take into account the complexity of the disease and have included the identification of both genetic and environmental factors that, coupled with H. pylori infections, contribute to the disease’s process.

Correa received his medical degree at the Universidad de Antioquia in Medellin, Colombia, in 1949. He completed a pathology residency at Emory University in Atlanta and returned to Colombia in 1954, where he served as chairman of the Department of Pathology at the Universidad del Valle School of Medicine.

He returned to the United States on a permanent basis in 1970 when he began working at the National Cancer Institute and later at Louisiana State University Medical Center, where his laboratory thrived until being destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, causing him to relocate to Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in 2005.

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