April 22, 2010

Vanderbilt-Ingram research highlighted at national cancer conference

Vanderbilt-Ingram research highlighted at national cancer conference

A blood test used to determine the level of inflammation in the body may offer some help in assessing colon cancer risk, according to results of a study presented by Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center's Gong Yang, M.D., MPH, during the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) in Washington, D.C.

Yang was among dozens of VICC investigators whose work was highlighted during the conference, which brings together nearly 17,000 scientists and hundreds of reporters.

Yang and colleagues found that levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a protein produced by the liver in response to inflammation, are increased in women with colon cancer. Prior studies suggested an association between elevated CRP levels and colon cancer, which fits with the hypothesis that chronic inflammation increases cancer risk.

"Although cancer-induced inflammation has been proposed to explain the relationship between elevated CRP levels and cancer risk, this hypothesis has not been well evaluated in previous studies," said Yang, a research associate professor of Medicine. "This study, the largest thus far on circulating CRP and colorectal cancer risk, allows us to test this hypothesis in a more definitive manner."

Yang and colleagues measured CRP levels in blood samples from women participating in the Shanghai Women's Health Study, a large population-based prospective study of nearly 75,000 Chinese women. In an analysis of 209 cases of colon cancer and 279 healthy controls, the researchers found that women with CRP levels in the highest quartile (the upper 25 percent) had a 2.5-times greater risk of colon cancer compared with women in the lowest quartile.

They found that the increased risk was primarily seen in women with high blood CRP levels measured within the three years prior to diagnosis. As the interval between the blood draw and cancer diagnosis increased, the association between CRP levels and risk faded.

Because the increased risk was greatest in the first years after CRP measurement, Yang believes that high CRP levels may arise largely from the patient's inflammatory response to cancer. Therefore, high CRP may be more of a "risk marker" (something that is detectable as a result of disease) rather than a "risk factor" (something that predisposes one to disease).

In addition to Yang’s study, Vanderbilt investigators presented nearly 70 research posters and participated in various workshops during the AACR event.

Tsogzolmaa Dorjgochoo, M.D., Ph.D., MPH, received a Minority Scholar in Cancer Research Award for a study on the combined effects of BCL-2 pathway gene variants on the risk of endometrial cancer. Dorjgochoo was one of 25 recipients of the Minority Scholar Awards, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute’s Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities.

Michael VanSaun, Ph.D., research instructor in Hepatobiliary Surgery and Liver Transplantation, received a Pancreatic Cancer Action Network-AACR Career Development Award to study the influence of adipokines on pancreatic cancer progression. The two-year, $200,000 grants are designed to attract and support early career scientists as they conduct pancreatic cancer research and establish successful career paths in the field.

AACR also highlighted VICC’s “Mythbusters: Cancer Research in Jeopardy,” an educational project designed to dispel myths about clinical research trials. Jane Kennedy, M.S.S.W., manager of patient advocacy, and several researchers and patient advocates presented a poster about Mythbusters, which combined elements of “Jeopardy,” “Saturday Night Live” and the Discovery Channel MythBusters show in a humorous event for the community to increase awareness of clinical research trials.