July 9, 2004

VICC receives mouse model grant renewal

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Robert J. Coffey, M.D., left, and fourth- year medical student Stephen Settle study mouse models to unlock cancer clues. Photo by Anne Rayner

VICC receives mouse model grant renewal

Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center’s pioneering work in developing mouse models to help unlock the mysteries of cancer in humans has received a significant boost with renewal of its membership in the National Cancer Institute’s Mouse Models of Human Cancer Consortium.

Renewal of the grant will provide more than $4 million in support over the next five years; more importantly, it maintains the involvement of Vanderbilt scientists in an elite network of 16 institutions from across the country.

Of these, VICC is the only center to hold both a Mouse Models of Human Cancer Consortium grant and a Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) focused exclusively on colorectal cancer. SPOREs bring together basic, clinical and population-based scientists to collaborate on research with clear potential to improve patient care.

“This provides us a unique opportunity to move seamlessly between the mouse and the human to develop innovative strategies for diagnosis, prevention and treatment of colorectal cancer,” said Robert J. Coffey, M.D., director of both the MMHCC and the GI SPORE at Vanderbilt.

The development of mouse models of human cancer, through various sophisticated genetic engineering techniques, is critical to understanding the complex array of molecular steps involved in cancer.

VICC first joined the consortium in 1999 when it was awarded a $2.5 million, five-year grant. Since that time, the team has developed mouse models that have been used to demonstrate the key role of the epidermal growth factor receptor in the early establishment phase of intestinal tumors, as well as an important role in later stages of tumor progression, Coffey said.

During the coming grant cycle, the VICC scientists will focus on developing mouse models of colorectal cancers that metastasize to the liver — a common occurrence in humans with colorectal cancer — and will work to understand the role of the naturally occurring bacteria and other “gut flora” in the development of colorectal cancer.

In addition, they will work to develop a mouse model that expresses the human epidermal growth factor receptor. There are a number of drugs that are under development, to inhibit the receptor in humans but there are no mouse equivalents; being able to study these drugs, alone and in combination with other agents, will help scientists and physicians learn better how to use these novel therapies in patients.

The consortium does its work through two large meetings each year, one hosted at the NCI in Bethesda and the other by a member institution. Vanderbilt will host one of the meetings in January 2005.

In addition, the consortium is divided into various subgroups based on specific technologies, research processes, or organ sites. Coffey directs the gastrointestinal organ subgroup, which also includes investigators from Harvard, the University of Wisconsin and the University of Cincinnati.

Coffey is the Ingram Professor of Cancer Research. More information about the consortium and its work can be found online at http://emice.nci.nih.gov.