Center wins $8.2 million to extend obesity, cancer consortium

Five-year grant renews coordinating hub role for TREC, a nationwide research initiative working to understand, prevent obesity-related cancers; Mark Thornquist will lead
Dr. Mark Thornquist
The principal investigator of the TREC initiative’s coordinating center is biostatistician of the Public Health Sciences Division. Photo by Dean Forbes

The National Cancer Institute has awarded $8.2 million over the next five years to the Hutchinson Center to extend its role as the coordinating hub of a nationwide research consortium that aims to better understand the link between obesity and cancer.

The Transdisciplinary Research on Energetics and Cancer initiative, or TREC, which began in 2005, involves a diverse team of researchers from across the United States.

The $45 million, five-year initiative also will study the underlying behavioral causes of obesity and ways to prevent it, particularly among children, cancer survivors and others at high risk. The network’s research projects range from the biologic and physiologic mechanisms of obesity to the behavioral, socio-cultural and environmental influences on nutrition, physical activity and weight.

Attacking obesity from many sides

The principal investigator of the initiative’s coordinating center is biostatistician Dr. Mark Thornquist of the Public Health Sciences Division. "The idea behind TREC is to attack the problem of obesity and cancer with teams of researchers from many scientific fields, such as nutrition science, molecular epidemiology and behavioral science," he said. “By approaching the problem from many directions and collaborating across studies we hope to make scientific progress faster than more narrowly focused research. The coordinating center helps to tie all of these researchers together and enable us to collaborate more effectively.”

Under Thornquist’s direction the coordinating center will support communication, collaboration, and data sharing and analysis among four TREC research centers and the NCI. He has led the coordinating center since 2005, when the NCI launched the TREC initiative with $54 million in initial funding, including $5.3 million to the Hutchinson Center to establish the coordinating hub.

"NCI is very concerned about the epidemic of obesity and its implications for cancer," said Dr. Robert Croyle, director of the NCI’s division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences. "This investment reflects the urgency of the problem and the need to accelerate scientific progress to inform cancer-control strategies."

The American Cancer Society estimates that about 30 percent of cancer deaths are due to poor nutrition, excess weight and lack of exercise. "This consortium will aim to understand the link between cancer and obesity at a fundamental, biologic level," Thornquist said.

In addition to the Hutchinson Center, the initiative will provide new five-year funding for researchers at Harvard University, the University of California San Diego, University of Pennsylvania and Washington University in St. Louis.

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