April 12, 2002

VICC awarded second SPORE

Featured Image

Dr. Robert Coffey is directing the SPORE grant at Vanderbilt.

VICC awarded second SPORE

A team of Vanderbilt investigators has been awarded a highly competitive, $13 million Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant to fund an interdisciplinary program focused on colorectal cancer, the second leading cancer killer.

The National Cancer Institute SPORE in GI Cancer grant is the second SPORE to be funded at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, which received a SPORE in Lung Cancer last year. The GI SPORE involves the Gastroenterology Programs in the departments of Medicine, Surgery, Cancer Biology and Radiation Oncology.

The National Cancer Institute established SPOREs 10 years ago to promote interdisciplinary research into specific cancer types that focuses on projects with a “translational” emphasis; that is, work that spans the gap from basic laboratory discovery to clinical application.

Nationwide, 33 SPOREs for breast, GI, genitourinary, lung, ovarian, prostate and skin cancers are active at 23 institutions. Vanderbilt-Ingram, which received a SPORE in Lung Cancer last year, now joins only six other cancer centers to have more than one active SPORE grant.

“We’re very excited about our SPORE in GI Cancer,” said Dr. Robert J. Coffey Jr., Ingram Professor of Cancer Research, professor of Medicine and Cell and Developmental Biology, and director of the new SPORE. “Up till now, there have only been two SPOREs in GI cancers, none of which has focused exclusively on colorectal cancer.”

Nearly 150,000 cases of colorectal cancer are expected to be diagnosed this year, according to the American Cancer Society, and because risk increases after age 50, incidence is expected to climb in coming years as the Baby Boom generation ages. More than 46,000 deaths are expected from colorectal cancer, making it the second leading cancer killer in both men and women.

“Vanderbilt once again has demonstrated a deep capacity to put together a superb interdisciplinary research team to tackle one of medicine’s most vexing problems,” said Dr. Eric G. Neilson, Hugh Jackson Morgan Professor of and Chairman of Medicine. “Bob Coffey and his co-investigators have really outdone themselves this time, and as a leading research institution, we again have a new opportunity to make an important contribution to medical science.”

The GI SPORE will provide $2.75 million each year for five years beginning June 1. The funding will support five research projects, which focus on translational research using a variety of molecular targets for prevention and therapy of colorectal cancer. The funding also supports six shared resources (cores).

Projects and their leaders are:

• Project 1 will focus on the epidermal growth factor receptor as a target for therapy in colorectal cancer (Coffey and Dr. Mace Rothenberg). This project will include a clinical trial using Iressa, an investigational EGF receptor-blocking agent.

• Project 2 will evaluate combinations of drugs to block both the EGF receptor and cyclooxygenase 2 (COX-2) in Phase I and II trials in colorectal cancer patients (Coffey and Dr. Jordan Berlin).

• Project 3 will use DNA microarray and imaging mass spectrometry to identify markers that correspond to response to neoadjuvant chemotherapy and radiation. The ultimate goal is to be able to predict response and tailor therapy for an individual patient. (Dr. Daniel Beauchamp and Dr. Bapsi Chak).

• Project 4 will examine the role of p120—a protein first identified at Vanderbilt—in the spread of colorectal cancer. (Al Reynolds, Ph.D., and Dr. Scott Pearson)

• Project 5 aims to identify markers for the recurrence of colon polyps that ultimately could be used to determine which patients might benefit most from regular screenings and preventive agents and which might reasonably undergo screening at longer intervals. (Dr. Wei Zheng and Dr. William Grady).

Cores and their leaders are Administrative, Coffey; Tissue, Dr. Kay Washington; Clinical Trials, Rothenberg; Emerging Technologies, Richard Caprioli, Ph.D., and Shawn Levy, Ph.D.; Biostatistics, Yu Shyr, Ph.D.; and Biomedical Informatics, Dr. Mary Edgerton. The cores were judged to be very strong, according to the reviewers, especially the Biostatistics Core, which they called a “model” for future projects.

Coffey noted the tremendous team effort required to develop a successful grant application, which was delivered to the NCI after three months of intense preparation.

“The Coffey Lab essentially shut down to prepare this grant,” he said. “Every member of the lab and every member of the SPORE worked tirelessly to put this together and it’s very gratifying to see so many people focused on a common goal.”