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NIH Seeks Infection-linked Cancer Signatures

By a GenomeWeb Staff Reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Institutes of Health will fund research that seeks to discover biomarkers for cancers that may be caused by the presence of infectious agents, such as viruses or bacteria.

Supported by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, the program will fund scientists seeking to identify molecular signatures that distinguish individuals with infectious agents who are at high risk of developing cancer or that can detect early stages of cancer in infected individuals.

The grants will be supported under R01 grants that will not have specific funding amounts and under R21 grants that will provide up to $275,000 over a two-year period.

The goal of this program is to increase knowledge about infection-associated cancers, to find ways to identify individuals who are at high risk of developing such cancers, and to detect early stage cancers in people in that population.

"Infection-associated cancers are increasing at an alarming rate," and roughly 15 percent of cancers worldwide are linked to viral and bacterial agents and other pathogens, NIH stated in its funding announcement.

However, though the number of people infected by a pathogen may be very high, "only a minor proportion ever develops cancer," NIH stated. "For example, 10 million women in the US have cervical human papillomavirus infections, but only 15 thousand develop cancers. In addition, only 1 percent of Helicobacter pylori-infected persons will develop gastric cancer," NIH continued.

Molecular signatures that could distinguish which infected individuals are at high risk of developing cancer or that can detect early stages of cancer in infected people could lessen the danger of death from these malignancies.

These grants will fund research to discover molecular profiles of normal, precancerous, and cancerous lesions following infection and markers found in body fluids from infected individuals. The studies also may analyze molecular profiles to determine whether a single biomarker, a panel of markers, or molecular patterns can be used to determine which infected individuals are at risk of developing cancer, and potentially used to identify targets for cancer prevention and treatment.

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