Dr Ryan W. Honaker

Dr Ryan W. Honaker

Dr Honaker’s research is to understand how Helicobacter pylori (Hp) causes stomach cells to become cancerous.

Ryan W. Honaker, PhD grew up in Utah and received his B.S. in Microbiology from Brigham Young University. After several years working in the Bay area, where he met his wife, he attended the University of Colorado Denver, earning his PhD from the Department of Microbiology as he studied the genetic mechanisms Mycobacterium tuberculosis uses to adapt and cause latent disease.

Dr Honaker became interested in the interaction between bacteria and the host, and the resulting diseases that can be caused by this interaction. He and his wife both missed the Bay area. Thus, in 2010 he joined the laboratory of Dr Manuel Amieva at Stanford University to pursue the study of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, the only known cancer-causing bacteria. This enabled Dr Honaker to combine his knowledge of bacteria with his interest in the interaction between bacterium and host to study cancer, which had sadly become more personal with the untimely death of his brother-in-law from the disease.

The goal of Dr Honaker’s research is to better understand how Helicobacter pylori (Hp) causes stomach cells to become cancerous. Gastric cancer is an important worldwide public health concern, second only to lung cancer in the number of yearly deaths it causes. Hp is the most important known risk factor for gastric cancer development, and strains of the bacteria that directly inject a specific protein named CagA into human cells cause more severe disease.

Dr Honaker’s work will lead to a better understanding of the interaction between Hp and human cells, specifically focusing on the hypothesis that, in the stomach, CagA may be directly injected into proliferating precursor cells and possibly stem cells (which normally allow for healthy turnover of the cells in the lining of the stomach). Dr Honaker will determine how the injection of this protein alters the normal growth and differentiation activities of these cells and how this leads to cancer.

The Role of Helicobacter Pylori Epithelial Interactions in Cancer

Many aspects of gastric cancer are currently unknown. Dr Honaker’s investigation, entitled, The Role of Helicobacter Pylori Epithelial Interactions in Cancer, will identify critical steps in stomach cancer development and will increase our abilities to prevent, detect, and treat this disease. Since evidence is growing that bacterial populations in the intestine may also play a role in the development of colon cancer, Dr Honaker’s work could also help us better understand this type of cancer.