Research and Training Grants in Colorectal Cancer

The American Cancer Society funds scientists and medical professionals who study cancer or train at medical schools, universities, research institutes, and hospitals throughout the United States. We use a rigorous and independent peer review process that is competitive and confidential to select the most innovative research projects and creative scientists to fund.

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90

Grants

Total Colorectal Cancer Grants in Effect as of March 1, 2019

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$31

Million

Total Colorectal Cancer Grant Funding in Effect as of March 1, 2019

Spotlight on Colorectal Cancer Grantees

Manipulating the Bacteria in Our Gut May Prevent Colorectal Cancer

Grantee: Sebastian Winter, PhD
Institution: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas
Grant Term: 7/1/2017 to 6/30/2021

The Challenge:
 Billions of microscopic organisms – bacteria, viruses, fungi, and others – live in our bodies, most of them in our gut. Most work in harmony with our bodies, but some are harmful. Left alone, they can contribute to diseases including colorectal cancer (CRC).

People who have CRC have a different microbiotic community in the gut, with more harmful bacteria than people who don't have CRC. Some changes in gut microbiota are considered a risk factor for CRC. The change may contribute to cancer in two ways:

  • Ramping up inflammation that promotes tumors
  • Creating an environment that allows cancer-promoting bacteria to grow. One of those bacteria is E. coli, which makes DNA-damaging toxins.

The Research: Winter and his research team hypothesize that preventing this growth of toxic E. coli in the gut will reduce the risk for CRC. They plan to target the bacteria’s unique metabolism to starve it.

In the first year of the grant-funded work, Winter’s team found they could slow the growth of cancer-promoting bacteria in mice by using the metal tungsten.

Now, the team is looking for drugs that work against toxic E. coli without the toxic side effects that tungsten has.

The Goal and Long-term Possibilities: Winter expects to create new ways to prevent CRC by manipulating gut microbiota. New drugs could be useful tools for further investigating the roles of the microbiota in the development of cancer. 

Understanding Why Certain Colorectal Cancers Evade or Resist Treatment

Grantee: Lukas E. Dow, PhD
Institution: Joan and Sanford I Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York
Grant Term: 1/1/2018 to 12/31/2021

The Challenge: There are currently very few effective treatments for people with colorectal cancer (CRC) that’s spread far from the colon. What’s more, some CRCs are sneaky and can evade or resist treatment.

About 10% of CRCs have the gene R-Spondin (RSPO) fused to another gene. These RSPO-fusion CRCs have abnormally high levels of the protein WNT, which helps the cancer grow.

There are drugs that stop the body from making WNT proteins. These drugs can immediately
slow the growth of CRC and shrink tumors.

The Research: Dow’s research team discovered that when treatment with WNT-targeted drugs stops, RSPO-fusion CRC may grow back. They also learned that the returning cancer has genetic changes that can keep a WNT-targeted drug from working like it did before.  

Dow and his team are now using ACS funds to investigate how these cancers grow back and what genetic changes contribute to the cancers’ resistance to a once successful drug. They’re using a computer-based model to explore how a returning RSPO-fusion CRC tumor grows and what the drug does to it.

They’re also studying how well those drugs work for mice with that type of tumor. Here’s how they’re doing that: Dow’s team uses cells from patients with CRC to transplant into mice. In a mouse, these cells become “mini guts” that act like human tissue. 

Dow’s team expects to discover new insights into how RSPO-fusion CRCs progress and how they can be treated. They believe that in the future their methods will lead to a new way to study what effect the WNT-targeted drugs have on the body and the tumor. 

The Goals and Long-term Possibilities: If these Dow's studies show that the drugs work well in mice, they will need to be tested in humans, which could take many years of study. One of their goals is to help CRC patients by learning how to predict who WNT-targeted drugs will help. The research team also hopes to make CRC drugs more effective by identifying new drugs that prevent or overcome treatment resistance. 

Increasing Colorectal Cancer Screening Rates to Save Lives

Grantee: Allison M. Cole, MD
Institution: University of Washington
Term: 7/1/2014 to 6/20/2017

The Challenge: Colorectal cancer (CRC) is one of the few types of cancer that may be prevented with screening. Regular screening can also help find CRC early – before it’s spread. And screening can reduce deaths from CRC. Even so, not everyone who meets the recommendations for screening gets it. People who are part of a minority group or poor are especially less likely to be screened.

The Research:  With a Cancer Control Career Development Award (CCCDA) from the American Cancer Society, Cole identified people who needed CRC screening. Then she mailed them home screening kits with a fecal immunochemical test (FIT). Anyone who didn’t return a completed test within 30 days received a postcard reminder.

Two weeks after that, those who still hadn’t returned the test received a reminder telephone call. Her results showed increased screening rates. Of the kits returned, 10% tested positive for blood in the stool. Since that's a symptom of CRC, people with a positive FIT test need more testing.

When Cole wrote her final update about her American Cancer Society grant, about 33% of those patients who had a positive FIT had already had a colonoscopy, a follow-up test after a positive FIT test. Medical staff were trying to contact the others.

In fact, her results convinced the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle to put her screening program into action just one month after her American Cancer Society grant funding ended.

The Goal and Long-term Possibilities: Cole thinks that this type of CRC screening program will significantly increase screening rates, decrease deaths from this disease, and help reduce cancer disparities in low-income and minority populations. 

BE GONE Trial: Can Eating Beans Lower the Risk of Colorectal Cancer Recurrence in Survivors with Obesity?

Grantee: Carrie Daniel-MacDougall, PhD, MPH
Institution: University of Texas, MD Anderson in Houston
Grant Term: 7/1/2017 to 6/30/2020

The Challenge: Better screening and treatment for colorectal cancer (CRC) are linked to higher survival rates. But poor diet, obesity, inflammation, and problems with metabolism can bring survival rates down. Survivors of CRC with any of these habits or health problems may have a higher chance of the cancer returning.

The Research: Daniel-MacDougall is conducting the BE GONE Trial to study how eating more beans affects the health of CRC survivors with obesity. Her focus is on whether this dietary change enhances “good” bacteria in the gut. It if does, eating beans could help reduce the digestive and inflammatory effects of obesity on patients’ health and long-term survival. 

The Goal and Long-term Possibilities: The research team’s findings will help inform future treatments and public health campaigns for CRC. The results may do the same for other major diet-and obesity-related diseases that affect cancer survivors.

Understanding Barriers to Screening With Colonoscopy in North and South Carolinians

Grantee: Jan M. Eberth, PhD
Institution: University of South Carolina in Columbia
Grant Term: 1/1/2016 to 12/31/2019

The Challenge: Following the recommended screening guidelines for colorectal cancer (CRC) can reduce the number of people who develop CRC or die from it. But many people are not up-to-date on their screening.

Certain groups are even less likely to be screened. These include racial/ethnic minorities, people without health insurance, recent immigrants, and people who have less education.

Not getting screened increases a person’s chance of being diagnosed with a later stage of CRC, when it’s not as easy to successfully treat. 

The Research: Several studies have shown that the number of cancer-screening providers in a region and their location is related with the number of people who get screened. Eberth is studying how the availability of colonoscopy providers affect screening in North and South Carolina.

She and her research team are specifically focusing on what prevents people from getting a colonoscopy. For instance, they may not have enough providers nearby or the type of health insurance they have affects their decision about whether to get screened.

The Goal and Long-term Possibilities: Results of Eberth’s work may help develop ways to increase the number and location of colonoscopy providers in these 2 states as well as the number of people who get screened.

CLEARPath Program Aims to Help Patients Understand Lab Reports

Grantee: John L. Gore, MD
Institution: University of Washington in Seattle
Grant Term: 1/1/2017 to 12/31/2020

The Challenge: To confirm a diagnosis of cancer, a doctor often sends a piece of tissue (biopsy) or a blood sample to a lab, where it’s checked for cancer cells. The description of the tissue that they get back from the lab is a pathology report.

Information on this report provides patients with a chance to learn more about their situation and work with their doctor to make decisions about what to do next. The problem is that pathology reports use complicated jargon and aren’t understandable to the average person.

The Research: Gore is testing the value of following patient-centered design principles on pathology reports. He wants to learn whether reports that follow these principles improve the way people understand the results of their tests. He’s specifically studying people who have recently been diagnosed with colorectal or breast cancer.

Patient-centered design principles help the people who write the reports use language, facts, and numbers that patients and caregivers can understand. The name for his program, CLEARPath, stands for Comprehend Language and Engage Relationships in Pathology.

Gore is testing these newly designed reports against standard ones to see if:

  • Providers and providers prefer them.
  • They improve the patient’s knowledge about cancer and ability to take part in making decisions about their treatment.
  • They improve patient’s rating of doctor-patient communication.

Gore and his team are also developing software to automatically generate patient-centered reports.

The Goal and Long-term Possibilities: Results from this study could guide a larger trial to confirm the reports help more people understand what a medical test showed about their health. They could also help develop patient-centered pathology reports for other types of cancer. 

From Our Researchers

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