Winter
2012

Fountainhead

$11.3-Million Grant Creates Fast Track for Cancer Clinical Trials

cancer research

TThink of it as the express lane. If a researcher has a promising approach for treating gastrointestinal cancers, they may no longer have to wait years for federal research funding.

An $11.3-million grant to Case Western University School of Medicine from the National Cancer Institute has created a new center that will get clinical trials up and running quickly.

"If somebody comes to us with a good idea, we have money to try it out and we have a team in place to execute the entire pipeline, from the lab bench to the bedside and back," says Sanford Markowitz, MD, PhD, the Dr. Sanford Markowitz/Frances Wragg Ingalls Professor of Cancer Genetics at the School of Medicine and medical oncologist at University Hospitals (UH) Seidman Cancer Center. "And we can do that without having to take a number and wait in line for two years."

The Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) in Gastrointestinal Research is one of just seven such initiatives nationwide, including ones at Harvard and Johns Hopkins universities.

The SPORE allows the medical school to take a leading role in combatting colon cancer-the second-leading cause of cancer deaths behind lung cancer--and cancers of the esophagus, one of the fastest-growing causes of cancer deaths.

"These are enormously significant diseases in terms of public health," says Markowitz, who will direct the SPORE along with Nathan Berger, MD, the Hanna-Payne Professor of Experimental Medicine at the medical school and a hematologist-oncologist at University Hospitals Case Medical Center.

The center includes 15 researchers, including 11 from the medical school and UH Case Medical Center, three from Cleveland Clinic and one from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

The SPORE will focus on developing new drugs to prevent colon cancer; identifying people at risk of developing colon cancer; developing tests to distinguish which cancers can be cured by surgery alone and which require chemotherapy and radiation; and identifying genes that cause some families to be more vulnerable to cancers of the esophagus.

It will also include a clinical trial of a noninvasive DNA stool test for early detection of colon cancer tumors, as well as efforts to understand why African-Americans have a higher incidence of colon cancer and why they are more likely to die from it than Caucasians diagnosed at the same stage. "That's just simply scandalous and unacceptable," Markowitz says.

He says researchers will examine the molecular biology of colon cancers from African-Americans in an effort to determine whether it can help explain the higher mortality rates from these tumors.

Researchers also intend to enroll African-Americans as 40 percent of the participants in the clinical trial of the DNA stool test in hopes of improving the detection of colon tumors during their early, curable stages.