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V Scholar Award to support Byndloss’ cancer research

Nov. 18, 2020, 3:38 PM


by Leigh MacMillan

Mariana Byndloss, DVM, PhD, assistant professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, has received a V Scholar Award from the V Foundation for Cancer Research.

Mariana Byndloss, DVM, PhD

The award will provide $200,000 over two years to support Byndloss’ studies of the links between obesity, the gut microbiome and colorectal cancer. The V Scholar program focuses on tenure-track faculty early in their research careers.

“I am grateful to the V Foundation for its support. The award will allow us to address an important gap in knowledge about how intestinal dysbiosis — a functional imbalance in the microorganisms living in our guts — might be a mechanistic link between an obesogenic high-fat diet and colorectal cancer,” said Byndloss, who is also an associate director of the Vanderbilt Microbiome Initiative and a member of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, and its incidence in young adults is increasing, according to the American Cancer Society. One of the risk factors for colorectal cancer is high-fat diet-induced obesity, but the mechanisms by which a high-fat diet increases risk are unclear.

“Emerging evidence indicates that the gut microbiota play an important role in the pathogenesis of both diet-induced obesity and colorectal cancer,” Byndloss said.

With the V Scholar Award, Byndloss and her team will:

  • Explore how a high-fat diet affects the metabolism of intestinal epithelial cells;
  • Study how a high-fat diet drives gut dysbiosis and leads to expansion of microbes associated with colorectal cancer development; and
  • Determine how changes in epithelial cell metabolism and gut microbiota composition converge to promote intestinal carcinogenesis.

Byndloss and her team will use a multidisciplinary approach that combines bacterial genetics, intestinal epithelial cell models and mouse models with defined intestinal microbial communities.

“If our central hypothesis is correct, our studies will show that diet-induced cell damage and the intestinal growth of harmful bacteria are the reasons why obesity causes colorectal cancer,” Byndloss said.

The findings could guide the development of therapeutics that modulate intestinal cell metabolism and/or the gut microbiota to treat colorectal cancer and other obesity-driven cancers, she added.

Byndloss earned her DVM and PhD from Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in her native Brazil and completed postdoctoral training at the University of California, Davis. She joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 2018.

Byndloss is also a member of the Vanderbilt Institute for Infection, Immunology and Inflammation and the Vanderbilt Digestive Disease Research Center. She was selected to participate in the Future Research Leaders Conference at the National Institutes of Health in 2019 and was a finalist for the inaugural NOSTER & Science Microbiome Prize earlier this year.

The V Foundation for Cancer Research was founded by ESPN and college basketball coach/sports commentator Jim Valvano. Since its formation in 1993, the V Foundation has awarded more than $250 million in cancer research grants nationwide.

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