Grant Renewal Boosts GI Cancer Research Program

September 21, 2012 | Dagny Stuart

Robert Coffey Jr., M.D.

Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center’s gastrointestinal Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) has been awarded its third round of funding by the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

“We decided to roll the dice and propose high-risk, high-reward projects,” said Robert Coffey Jr., M.D., Ingram Professor of Cancer Research, professor of Medicine and Cell and Developmental Biology, and director of the GI SPORE. “This included a project focused on colon cancer stem cells and another to develop a drug to inhibit the mutant KRAS oncogene, thought to be an undruggable target.”

The gamble paid off. The NCI — a division of the National Institutes of Health — will provide $11.5 million over the next five years to continue to support the gastrointestinal (GI) SPORE, which focuses on colorectal cancer, the most common form of GI cancer in the U.S., with an estimated 143,000 new cases and 51,690 deaths this year.

The federal SPORE program provides research funding for specific forms of cancer and was created by the NCI in 1992 to support “translational” research which moves knowledge from the laboratory bench to the clinic for patient therapy.

This emphasis on bench-to-bedside research is designed to accelerate the pace of scientific inquiry in support of better patient care.

The competition for these SPORE grants is ferocious.

VICC’s GI SPORE program encompasses an interdisciplinary team of investigators from basic science, Hematology/Oncology, imaging, Epidemiology, drug discovery, Surgical Oncology, Pathology, Biostatistics and Bioinformatics and patient advocacy.

The team members are focused on learning more about the causes and potential therapies for colorectal cancer.

“A distinguishing feature of our GI SPORE is that patient advocates are integral members of each project,” said Coffey. “I cannot emphasize enough how much our GI SPORE is a team effort.”

Coffey noted the contributions of Meghan O’Loughlin and Leticia Wallace, who worked tirelessly on the grant preparation.

“We are delighted by the renewal of the GI SPORE grant, especially during this time of increasingly tight federal research budgets,” said Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., director of VICC. “Dr. Coffey continues to provide tremendous leadership for this integrated group of investigators.”

“Bob has once again assembled an incredible team and they have the potential to translate discovery into meaningful improvements in the prevention and treatment of colorectal cancer,” said Nancy Brown, M.D., chair of the Department of Medicine.

The National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health is supporting this research under Award Number P50CA095103.

The SPORE grant funding supports four distinct research projects:

• Multimodal Imaging and Targeted Therapeutics of Stem Cell-Derived Colon Cancer
Clinical principal investigator (PI): Robert J. Coffey Jr., M.D.
Basic PI: H. Charles Manning, Ph.D.
Patient advocate: Ronald Obenauf

• Targeting K-RAS in Colorectal Cancer
Clinical PI: Jordan Berlin, M.D.
Basic PI: Stephen Fesik, Ph.D.
Patient advocate: Diane Lancaster

• Molecular Markers of Colorectal Cancer Recurrence
Clinical PI: R. Daniel Beauchamp, M.D.
Basic PI: Daniel Liebler, Ph.D.
Patient advocate: Robb Lent

• Genetic and Epigenetic Markers of Colorectal Adenoma Recurrence
Clinical PI: Harvey Murff, M.D., MPH
Basic PI: Wei Zheng, M.D., Ph.D., MPH
Patient advocate: Ardeth Obenauf

The GI SPORE also provides career development and pilot project funding.

• Translational Pathology and Imaging Core
Director: M. Kay Washington, M.D., Ph.D.
Co-director: H. Charles Manning, Ph.D.

• Biostatistics Core
Director: Yu Shyr, Ph.D. q

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