The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center has received a five-year $10.7 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to study colorectal and pancreatic cancer.

The Specialized Program in Research Excellence, or SPORE, grant in gastrointestinal cancers brings together basic and clinical researchers to test new approaches for cancer prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment.

“This grant represents a major effort to bridge the basic science to the clinic,” said Dr. Dean Brenner, principal investigator of the new grant and a professor of internal medicine and pharmacology at the UM Medical School and the Ann Arbor VA Healthcare System. “You have to have very good science, but it also has to translate: How are we going to use this information to help patients? The depth of expertise at the University of Michigan allows us to pursue this work.”

Researchers from nine different departments from the UM Medical School and School of Public Health will collaborate on the grant.

The Gastrointestinal SPORE grant is centered on four major projects, all of which will be tested in both laboratory research and clinical trials:

* Preventing colorectal cancer. Researchers will study whether substituting omega-3 fatty acids for omega-6 fatty acids could help prevent colorectal cancer. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish and are believed to improve heart health.
* Early detection of pancreatic cancer. Researchers will look for markers found in blood and plasma that are associated with pancreatic cancer. By using proteomics technology, researchers will analyze the changes in proteins in people with pancreatic cancer, non-cancerous pancreatic conditions and healthy pancreases. They hope to identify a marker or panel of markers that could be used to detect pancreatic cancer before it spreads to the rest of the body.
* Improving pancreatic cancer treatment. Researchers will look at whether blocking a certain protein could make pancreas tumors more sensitive to chemotherapy and radiation therapy. By doing this, researchers hope to improve the effectiveness of current treatments.
* Developing new pancreatic cancer treatments. Most pancreatic cancers express a gene called ATDC. Researchers will look at new therapies designed to target ATDC as a way of treating pancreatic cancer.

The grant also allows for training of young cancer researchers to encourage the next generation of scientists.

According to the National Cancer Institute, 142,570 Americans will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year and 51,370 will die from the disease. As for pancreatic cancer, the rarer but deadlier: 43,140 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year, and 36,800 will die from the disease. Pancreatic cancer is one of the most deadly cancer types, with more than 70 percent of patients dying within six months of diagnosis.

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