American Association for Cancer Research

Press Releases: 2008

$1.8 Million Awarded for Metastatic Colon Cancer Research

June 26, 2008

PHILADELPHIA - Through the generous philanthropic support of the Littlefield 2000 Trust, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is pleased to announce three recipients of the 2008 Jeannik M. Littlefield-AACR Grants for Metastatic Colon Cancer Research, totaling $1.8 million. In its third year, this competitive funding program is focused on high impact grants to accelerate the discovery and development of new treatments for metastatic colon cancer.

Colon cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in men and women and the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. An estimated 108,070 new cases will be diagnosed this year in the U.S. alone. While colon cancer in its earliest stages is often treatable, the spread, or metastasis of the disease to other parts of the body makes for a more complicated course of treatment and potentially a poorer prognosis. Metastatic colon cancer research is vital to understanding disease progression, with a goal of developing improved therapeutics and achieving better outcomes for patients.

With individual grants reaching levels of $890,000, the 2008 Littlefield funding is intended to have high impact and foster tangible progress against metastatic colon cancer, with promise for bringing individualized therapeutic options to patients within a one- to two-year period.

The 2008 Jeannik M. Littlefield-AACR grantees are: S. Gail Eckhardt, M.D., University of Colorado; Lara R. Lipton, M.D., Ph.D., Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research; and Nita Ahuja, M.D., Johns Hopkins University.

S. Gail Eckhardt, M.D., director of the Developmental Therapeutics Program at the University of Colorado, will apply her $890,000 grant to a project titled, "Development of individualized therapy for IGF-1R inhibition in advanced colorectal cancer." Building on scientific data indicating the importance of the insulin-like growth factor (IFG-1R) signaling pathway in the growth and progression of colorectal cancer, Eckhardt and her multidisciplinary team hope to develop predictive markers for IGF-1R inhibitors for metastatic colon cancer. Although early clinical results in rare tumors, such as sarcomas, are encouraging, clinical trials of these agents in other diseases are showing modest results, indicating that patient selection strategies may be needed to enhance the effectiveness of these drugs in treating metastatic colorectal cancer. Eckhardt's research proposal seeks to move beyond the current research environment of testing combinations of approved agents in unselected patients into an era of individualized therapy for IGF-1R inhibition, as a first step in improving treatment regimens for patients with advanced colorectal cancer.

Lara R. Lipton, M.D., Ph.D., a medical oncologist and clinical research fellow at the Parkville Branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in Melbourne, Australia, and her research team are searching for a "genomic signature for colorectal cancer metastases." They will apply the $575,000 grant to studying and comparing genetic material from colorectal cancer patients to better determine not only who is likely to have a recurrence of the disease but also, who should or should not receive chemotherapy treatment after initial surgery. Following initial surgery, chemotherapy can reduce the chance of recurrence in some patients, but can also produce significant side effects. Approximately 25 to 40 percent of patients undergoing surgery for localized colorectal cancer will have a recurrence with metastases. The results of Lipton's work could be useful in determining which patients are good candidates for chemotherapy based on their genetic make-up, and which patients may not respond to this type of treatment. Findings from the study could also identify key genetic differences in recurrent tumors which may help doctors target alternative therapies toward cells which are likely to resist initial treatments and form secondary colorectal cancers or metastases.

Nita Ahuja, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Surgery and Oncology at Johns Hopkins University, along with her research team, hopes to "develop epigenetic staging and therapy for colorectal cancer." Current colorectal cancer staging methods do not provide a clear picture of which patients could recur with metastatic disease. Ahuja will apply her $340,000 grant to developing new staging and, potentially new therapies, for colorectal cancer patients using DNA methylation changes that silence tumor suppressor genes. DNA methylation profiles are detected easily from small DNA samples and have enormous potential as predictive biomarkers. Her team has successfully used methylation profiles for molecular staging of early-stage lung cancer to determine patients who are at the highest risk of recurrence. The research team will apply this knowledge to metastatic colorectal cancer with the hope of developing an effective molecular staging tool to ensure that colorectal cancer patients deemed high-risk receive adjuvant chemotherapy while low-risk patients can be spared the toxicity of chemotherapy. Additionally, if Ahuja and her team can demonstrate the validity of epigenetic therapy in metastatic colorectal cancer, this treatment method could be targeted toward high-risk, metastatic patients in the near future.

The Jeannik M. Littlefield-AACR Grants for Metastatic Colon Cancer Research are sponsored by Jacques and Sandy Littlefield of Portola Valley, CA, on behalf of the Littlefield 2000 Trust. The grants are named in honor of Mr. Littlefield's mother and represent an integral part of AACR's overall grant program for all types of cancer.

To learn more about the Jeannik M. Littlefield-AACR Grants in Metastatic Colon Cancer Research, please visit our website.

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The mission of the American Association for Cancer Research is to prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1907, AACR is the world's oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research. The membership includes more than 28,000 basic, translational and clinical researchers; health care professionals; and cancer survivors and advocates in the United States and 80 other countries. AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise from the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer through high-quality scientific and educational programs. It funds innovative, meritorious research grants. The AACR Annual Meeting attracts more than 17,000 participants who share the latest discoveries and developments in the field. Special conferences throughout the year present novel data across a wide variety of topics in cancer research, treatment and patient care. AACR publishes five major peer-reviewed journals: Cancer Research; Clinical Cancer Research; Molecular Cancer Therapeutics; Molecular Cancer Research; and Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Its most recent publication and its sixth major journal, Cancer Prevention Research, is dedicated exclusively to cancer prevention, from preclinical research to clinical trials. The AACR also publishes CR, a magazine for cancer survivors and their families, patient advocates, physicians and scientists. CR provides a forum for sharing essential, evidence-based information and perspectives on progress in cancer research, survivorship and advocacy.

Media Contact:
Jennifer Ryan