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Case Western Reserve University Wins $11.3M for New GI Cancer Program

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine has netted $11.3 million from the National Cancer Institute to start a program that will use genomics and other approaches to study and develop tools to fight gastrointestinal cancers.

The funding will establish a Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) in gastrointestinal cancers, which will focus on translational research into new ways to diagnose, treat, and prevent cancers of the colon and esophagus.

The SPORE studies will use genomics to develop tests for early detection of colon cancer, identify genes linked to esophageal cancer, and identify individuals at risk for colon cancer.

The SPORE will be directed by Sanford Markowitz, a professor of cancer genetics at CWRU's School of Medicine, and co-directed by Nathan Berger, a professor of experimental medicine at the school.

Markowitz and his colleague James Willson, director of Simmons Cancer Center at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, discovered that the gene 15-PGDH naturally suppresses colon cancer and regulates response to tumor prevention with the drug Celecoxib. They now plan to examine whether differences in the gene are integral to tumor development in men versus women, and in African-Americans versus Caucasians, and to develop drugs that will boost 15-PGDH levels to provide a new class of agents for treating and preventing colon cancer.

They also plan to develop tests to enable doctors to determine whether a patient requires surgery alone or requires chemotherapy and radiation after surgery.

In another study, Case Western Reserve professors Gregory Cooper and Li Li will continue to develop a non-invasive stool-based DNA test for early detection of colon cancer tumors. They will start a clinical trial in suburban and city neighborhoods to raise screening rates for medically well-served and underserved parts of the community.

Two other Case Western Reserve professors, Amitabh Chak and Robert Elston, will use next-generation DNA sequencing to identify specific genes that cause certain individuals to become vulnerable to developing Barrett's esophagus and esophageal cancers.

"This grant reflects the culmination of decades of remarkable research efforts that have advanced our understanding of some of the most devastating and challenging forms of cancer," Case Western Reserve President Barbara Snyder said in a statement.

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