Arizona Cancer Center receives $12 million SPORE grant to fight GI cancers

The Arizona Cancer Center's Gastrointestinal (GI) Cancer Program has received a $12 million grant

The Arizona Cancer Center’s Gastrointestinal (GI) Cancer Program has received a $12 million Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The Center is one of only five institutions nationwide to receive a GI SPORE grant. The others include Harvard, Johns Hopkins, the University of North Carolina, and Vanderbilt University.

The grant is a five-year renewal of the Center’s first GI SPORE, funded in 2002. The GI SPORE is one of the five largest grants ever awarded to the University of Arizona College of Medicine and is the largest new grant to be funded in the past ten years.

“Dr. Gerner and his research colleagues in the Arizona Cancer Center have developed one of the top five research programs in the country for the prevention and treatment of colon, pancreatic and esophageal cancers,” said Arizona Cancer Center Director David S. Alberts, MD. “Their research is absolutely world class!”

“We’re very excited about the work that’s been accomplished during the past five years and are honored to be the only institution in Arizona that holds an NCI SPORE,” say Eugene W. Gerner, PhD, director of the Arizona Cancer Center’s GI Cancer Program and principal investigator for the grant. “As a result of the grant’s renewal, we can move forward to develop even more new methods for preventing and curing GI cancers.”

Highlights of the accomplishments of GI SPORE researchers during the past five years include:

  • The discovery of two new GI cancer-fighting drugs and completion of a Phase I clinical trial for one of the drugs.
  • Identification of a genetic marker, obtained through a blood test, for individuals likely to benefit from the colon polyp preventive action of aspirin.
  • A collaborative “first-of-its-kind” study of Barrett’s esophagus, the precursor to a form of esophageal cancer, to identify markers that predict which patients with Barrett’s esophagus will develop esophageal adenocarcinoma.
  • A unique binational study involving investigators in the Arizona Cancer Center and The University of Arizona Health Sciences Center, exploring the relationship between arsenic and cancer in southern Arizona and northern Mexico.
  • Discovery of neurological effects in cancer survivors, which may help improve the quality of life of patients coping with the long-term effects of treatment for GI and other cancers.
  • The first patient advocate research team to be integrated into a large NCI research grant in Arizona.
  • $9 million in new grants, which were generated from $1.5 million in funding for developmental research – a six-fold increase.
  • 138 publications in national scientific journals.
  • Five patents.

In 1992, the NCI established the SPOREs to promote interdisciplinary research and to foster translational research, which brings new scientific discoveries to the clinic. The long-term objective of the Arizona Cancer Center’s GI SPORE grant is to prevent and cure GI cancer by developing novel approaches for risk assessment, screening, chemoprevention, and therapeutics. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 20 percent of cancer deaths in the U.S. in 2007 will be from GI cancers, and colorectal cancer will be the second leading cause of overall cancer deaths.

The SPORE renewal includes four major research projects, three cores (services to support the projects), and career development and developmental research programs. The SPORE brings together a cross section of researchers from The University of Arizona, including the Arizona Cancer Center, the Health Sciences Center, and the BIO5 Institute. Other collaborators are from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, the University of California Irvine Chao Family Cancer Center, the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center in Scottsdale, and the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) in Phoenix.

A supplemental grant to study biomarkers for Barrett’s esophagus involves researchers from The University of Arizona, the Southern Arizona VA Medical Center, Johns Hopkins, Mayo Rochester, Mayo Jacksonville, the University of North Carolina, Vanderbilt, and the University of Maryland. A second supplemental study to continue researh on the relationship between arsenic exposure and cancer involves a binational team of investigators from The University of Arizona, Universidad de Sonora, and the Instituto Technologico de Sonora.

For more information on the GI SPORE, go to

The Arizona Cancer Center is the state’s premier National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center. With primary locations at the University of Arizona in Tucson and Scottsdale Healthcare, the Center has more than a dozen research and education offices throughout the state and 300 physician and scientist members working to prevent and cure cancer. For more information, go to