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Holowatyj receives National Cancer Institute MERIT Award

Jul. 19, 2023, 1:12 PM

Andreana Holowatyj, PhD, MSCI

by Tom Wilemon

Andreana Holowatyj, PhD, MSCI, assistant professor of Medicine, has received the National Cancer Institute’s Method to Extend Research in Time (MERIT) Award to support her ongoing investigation into how early-onset colorectal cancer and its treatments impact reproductive health.

This award is one that investigators cannot apply for directly. They are selected by National Cancer Institute (NCI) staff or advisory board members who review funding applications for other grants and then select MERIT awardees. MERIT Awards go to early-stage investigators and provide longer- term funding than is typical for most grants — initial funding for up to five years and there’s an opportunity to extend funding for another two years.

Holowatyj will receive $586,714 for the 2023 fiscal year with the opportunity to renew for a total of $4.1 million. The funding will support her project to delve into the “physiological and psychosocial aspects of reproductive health after early-onset colorectal cancer.” Her goal is to provide data and guidance so clinicians and care teams can better meet the unmet needs of individuals ages 18 to 49 years when diagnosed with a colon cancer or rectal cancer.

“As the number of adults within their childbearing years diagnosed with, treated for and surviving colorectal cancer continues to rise, reproductive health concerns remain an unmet need within this growing patient population. Funding from this NCI MERIT award directly supports our research that aims to close this gap and ultimately lead to incorporating reproductive health care into routine clinical management of early-onset colorectal cancer and to improve our patient outcomes,” Holowatyj said.

She established and leads the Preserving Fertility After Colorectal Cancer (PREFACE) clinical study, which is currently recruiting participants ( The PREFACE study is for adults ages 18 to 49 years newly diagnosed with colon cancer or rectal cancer at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. The primary objectives are to learn the specific needs of young patients along their cancer journey, find out how cancer therapies impact their reproductive health, and understand how health habits relate to fertility and sexual health. Holowatyj is supported by a staff of five for this endeavor.  For more information about PREFACE, a question-and-answer section is provided on the study’s website.

The incidence of colorectal cancer in young adults has risen in recent decades for reasons that remain unexplained. Holowatyj is also doing research to understand why this is happening and to determine why disparities exist among racial and ethnic groups. She recently had a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, which is the first investigation to delve into genetic predisposition for early-onset colorectal cancer by race and ethnicity.

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