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Dr. Ulrike “Riki” Peters, a cancer prevention researcher in the Public Health Sciences Division, has received a four-year, $11.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to identify genetic variants associated with colorectal cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States.
The NIH funding for this project establishes the Colorectal Cancer Genome-Wide Association Studies Consortium. This international effort will investigate whether common variations in genes influence colorectal cancer risk. Researchers in Germany, Canada, France and eight U.S. institutions are part of the consortium.
“The consortium provides an unprecedented opportunity to investigate the underlying genetic susceptibility to colorectal cancer, which is, at this point, largely unexplained,” Peters said.
Scanning for genetic variants
Genome-wide association studies involve a scan of common genetic markers across the genome in large numbers of individuals to find genetic variations associated with a particular disease. Once new genetic targets are identified, researchers can use the information to develop better strategies to detect, treat and prevent the disease, said PHS' Dr. Li Hsu, lead biostatistician.
Early genome-wide scans have demonstrated considerable success in identifying genetic variants associated with common diseases. The consortium will conduct a pooled analysis of existing colorectal cancer genome-wide scans—which included more than 15,000 individuals—and validate their findings in a large-scale independent replication study of similar size.
$4.6 million stimulus grant for related project
Through the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009, Peters also received $4.6 million for a related project. The one-year stimulus funding allows Peters and her team to conduct additional genome-wide scans using data from the Women’s Health Initiative, the Nurses’ Health Study, the Health Professional Follow-Up Study, and the Physicians’ Health Study. They will include these results in the larger consortium analysis.
"As this multisite project will be conducted in well characterized cohorts, we will also be able to examine whether environmental factors such as smoking, medications, alcohol, physical activity or diet change the risk of colorectal cancer related to these genetic variants," said Dr. Carolyn Hutter, a PHS postdoctoral fellow working on the project.
Peters’ funding success comes on the heels of the July announcement of her Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the nation’s highest honor for scientists at the beginning of their independent research careers.