August 8, 2003

Dubois receives National Institutes of Health MERIT award; $4 million research grant

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Dubois receives National Institutes of Health MERIT award; $4 million research grant

Dr. Raymond N. DuBois, Mina Cobb Wallace Professor of Cancer Prevention and director of the division of Gastroenterology, has received a MERIT (Method to Extend Research in Time) Award from the National Institutes of Health.

Fewer than five percent of NIH-funded scientists receive MERIT Awards, which are given to researchers with a proven track record of scientific excellence and productivity over the previous 10 years.

A key feature of the awards is the opportunity to gain up to 10 years of research support without having to undergo competitive grant renewal.

Not only are MERIT awards a vote of confidence from the NIH but with their extended funding period, they invite investigators to take “bold risks” that are key to scientific innovation, said Lee E. Limbird, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research. “Such risks often yield unexpected findings that scientists otherwise would never have had the opportunity to make,” she said.

The $4 million grant will support continuation of landmark work by DuBois and his team in the study of the enzyme cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) and its role in colorectal cancer development and progression.

“Colorectal cancer is responsible for 56,000 lives in the United States every year,” DuBois said. “Effective treatments for advanced disease are lacking, which suggests a need for alternative strategies to reduce mortality and morbidity from this disease.

“One intriguing approach is the concept of cancer prevention, and one of the most promising chemoprevention targets to have emerged in recent years is the COX-2 enzyme.”

DuBois’ lab was the first in the world to report that COX-2 expression is elevated in human colorectal cancers and that inhibitors of the enzyme blocked the growth of colorectal cancer cells that express COX-2.

These findings in the early 1990s offered an explanation for the observation that people who take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) on a chronic basis have a reduced incidence of colorectal cancer. This and DuBois’ subsequent research have helped to pave the way for development and study of aspirin-like drugs that selectively target COX-2 to prevent and possibly treat not only colorectal but other cancers.

“Over the past 10 years, research by our lab and others has strongly suggested that the protective effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs against colorectal cancer is due to their ability to inhibit COX-2,” DuBois said. “We have learned a tremendous amount, but important questions remain unanswered.”

With the MERIT Award funding, DuBois and his colleagues will be working to increase understanding of the precise mechanisms by which COX-2 derived prostaglandins promote tumor development in the colon.

The ultimate hope is identify other targets for drugs that may be even more effective and even safer at interfering with this process.