Alliance Announces Funding for Seven Innovative Research Projects
Press Release

Alliance Announces Funding for Seven Innovative Research Projects

Alliance Announces Funding for Seven Innovative Research Projects

The Colorectal Cancer Alliance (Alliance), the nation’s nonprofit leader in the mission to end colorectal cancer, today announced its selections for up to $850,000 in funding for innovative research projects to treat and prevent this disease. Today’s awards are a step toward achieving the organization’s $30 million research-funding commitment and align with its national research strategy. 

“The Alliance is proud to fund more high-impact research that advances our mission to end colorectal cancer,” said Andrea Goodman, Senior Vice President of Research Strategy and Patient Support. “The studies funded have high potential to transform the ways we prevent and treat colorectal cancer broadly and in specific populations, such as in patients who are Black or have Lynch-like syndrome. This is research that will save lives.”

After the Alliance launched a national request for proposals in April, more than 30 proposals were evaluated for early career investigator and pilot awards, undergoing a rigorous two-tier review process by a distinguished scientific review panel. The finalists will begin work in 2023 with incremental funding contingent on project progress. 

The Alliance has already invested nearly $5 million in colorectal cancer research, including nearly $3 million as early-stage grants to innovative researchers. Highlighting the return on its investments, two grantees supported with $400,000 of funding from the Alliance have gone on to receive more than $6.5 million in federal research funding.

Colorectal cancer, the second deadliest cancer in the United States among men and women combined, will be diagnosed 151,030 times this year, according to estimates from the American Cancer Society. As many as 52,580 patients will die.  

2022 research funding award recipients:

Michael Foote, MD - Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
2022 Chris4Life Colorectal Cancer Alliance Early Career Investigator Award collaboratively funded by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Defining the role of GNAS in colorectal cancer metastasis

Dr. Foote is investigating certain mutations in the GNAS gene that are more prevalent in patients who develop metastatic colorectal cancer. Dr. Foote will use the highest standards of technology and innovation to investigate the role these GNAS mutations play in CRC and the development of metastasis which may lead to new treatments.

Abhijit Rath, PhD - University of Connecticut Health Center
2022 Chris4Life Colorectal Cancer Alliance Early Career Investigator Award
Identifying novel genetic determinants of early-onset colorectal cancer

Dr. Rath will investigate the possibility of genetic mutations that cause Lynch-like syndrome (LLS). Patients with LLS present with colorectal cancer at an early age but do not have the hallmark genetic mutations seen in Lynch syndrome, the most common genetic cause of CRC. A preventive course for the families of those with LLS is lacking. The research team will address this gap by identifying genetic risk factors that could lead to these young-onset colorectal cancers. This will be the first systematic effort to address the concerns of these patients, and the findings could improve their diagnosis and treatment.

Nilay Sethi, MD, PhD - Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
2022 Chris4Life Colorectal Cancer Alliance Early Career Investigator Award collaboratively funded by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Preclinical validation of differentiation therapy in colorectal cancer

Dr. Sethi and his team recently identified a factor responsible for blocking the maturation of colon cells that normally turnover every five to seven days, allowing precancerous cells to persist. Laboratory models showed a drug to inhibit this factor promoted cancer cell maturation and reduced the tumor burden. The team is investigating how this drug promotes maturation and cancer cell death. They plan to investigate numerous drugs that restore cell maturation and lead to cancer cell death. These preclinical studies will provide a critical understanding and the necessary evidence to advance the drug to a clinical setting.

Francisco Sanchez-Vega, PhD -  Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
2022 Chris4Life Colorectal Cancer Alliance Early Career Investigator Award
Leveraging race-informed biological models for disparities research in CRC

Dr. Sanchez-Vega will investigate whether the higher colorectal cancer incidence and mortality of non-Hispanic Black (NHB) patients vs. non-Hispanic White patients is driven by differences in cancer biology, socioeconomic conditions, or other factors. His team will establish a unique biorepository of patient-derived organoid (PDO) models from NHB CRC patients. Existing CRC organoid biobanks have not included race, so there are not any well-characterized PDO models derived from NHB patients. New models will enable real-time validation of genomic predictions, testing of therapeutic options, and clarification of race-specific mechanisms of tumor progression and therapy resistance. The ultimate goal is to identify opportunities to intervene and improve outcomes in the NHB population.

Michael White, MD - University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center
2022 Chris4Life Colorectal Cancer Alliance Early Career Investigator Award
Optimizing the gut microbiome and response to neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy

Dr. White plans to study the correlation between the gut microbiome (the microorganisms that live in the human intestine), their circulating metabolites, and immune infiltrates in locally advanced rectal tumors. Previous research has shown that the microbiome is different in certain patients who respond to chemotherapy prior to surgery and have cancer-free survival.  Patients who have a complete response to chemotherapy can safely be offered a period of observation and may be able to forego surgery altogether.  The study team hopes to demonstrate that altering the microbiome within rectal tumors will improve response to presurgical chemotherapy.

Eugene Kandel MS, PhD - Health Research Incorporated, Roswell Park Cancer Institute Division
2022 Chris4Life Colorectal Cancer Alliance Pilot Award
Improved targeted therapy for BRAF- and RAS-driven colorectal cancers

Dr. Kandel will investigate the MAPK pathway in RAS- and BRAF-driven colorectal cancers, which have a poor prognosis. These cancers have a poor response to conventional chemotherapy and only a small subset respond to immunotherapy. The team will use a combination of drugs that are currently approved to sensitize this hard-to-treat subset of CRCs. If successful, the study will position the new combinations of readily available drugs for clinical translation as an effective therapy for this subset of colorectal cancers.

V. Liana Tsikitis, MD, MCR, MBA, FACS, FASCRS - Oregon Health & Science University 
2022 Chris4Life Colorectal Cancer Alliance Pilot Award
Changes after fiber intake on the colonic mucosal microbiome and metabolome

Dr. Tsikitis will investigate the relationship of the gut microbiome (the microorganisms that live in the human intestine), and the onset of colorectal cancer before the age of 50. Her team’s previous research showed a difference in the microbiome of people with precancerous polyps and those without polyps. They found that those without precancerous polyps had a tendency to eat more fruits, grains, and fermented foods. They believe this is due to these foods being high in fiber. Therefore, this study will evaluate if fiber can be used as a way to prevent precancerous polyps from forming.


About the Colorectal Cancer Alliance

The Colorectal Cancer Alliance is a national nonprofit committed to ending colorectal cancer. Working with our nation of passionate allies, we diligently support the needs of patients and families, caregivers, and survivors; eagerly raise awareness of preventive screening; and continually strive to fund critical research. As allies in the struggle, we are fiercely determined to end colorectal cancer within our lifetime. For more information, visit




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