Dr Natalia Castano Rodriguez

Identifying risk of stomach cancer

Born and raised in Colombia, Dr Natalia Castano Rodriguez is a National Health and Medical Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow in the Helicobacter and Campylobacter Laboratory at the University of New South Wales.

The research

Her research seeks to identify genetic differences that increase the risk of stomach cancer in certain groups of people. Screening individuals will enable early intervention to prevent and treat a disease that has few symptoms so is usually only detected at an advanced stage.

Natalia will also examine the role of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, which grows in the digestive tract and is known to be a key risk factor for the disease. The World Health Organisation classifies this bacterium - which also causes gastric ulcers - a Class 1 carcinogen.

High-risk populations

In studies of the Chinese population, which accounts for 42% of the global incidence of gastric cancer, Natalia and her colleagues have identified polymorphisms in genes that dramatically increase risk of the disease.

“While this is an important finding, it’s essential to determine whether these or other polymorphisms are associated with an increased risk of gastric cancer in other geographic groups, so we’ll also be investigating Colombian and Australian populations,” she says.

Stomach cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related death internationally and the number one cause of cancer-related deaths in Natalia’s home country, Colombia.

“It is most prevalent in low socio-economic groups and in those aged over 60 – though in some high risk populations such as Colombians the critical age from which the incidence increases steadily thereafter is as low as 30,” she says.

Amazing opportunity

Natalia sees the Cure Cancer Australia grant as an “amazing opportunity” to improve outcomes for stomach cancer globally through surveillance and treatment.

In 2015 Natalia married Dr Nadeem Kaakoush, a Career Development Fellow from the Cancer Institute NSW. “It’s invigorating to be able to share your crazy scientific ideas with your better half,” she says.


Natalia is funded by Cure Cancer Australia through the Cancer Australia Priority-driven Cancer Support Scheme. Her grant is solely supported by The Can Too Foundation.