Aspirin's role in colon cancer prevention focus of $5 million grant

July 21, 1999

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The National Cancer Institute has awarded a multi-disciplinary group of scientists in the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center a major grant to learn more precisely how aspirin and similar drugs may play a role in preventing colon cancer.

The "chemoprevention" program project grant will provide more than $1 million during the first year, with an additional $4 million in support over the next four years. In addition to the amount of financial support it provides, the grant is significant because it is the first to the VICC to be specifically earmarked for cancer prevention research. It is also among the first awarded by the NCI to support this kind of basic cancer research into so-called chemoprevention, the design of drugs to prevent cancer rather than treat it.

"This program integrates a lot of different but related efforts in pathology, surgery, clinical pharmacology, biochemistry and medicine," said Dr. Raymond N. DuBois, Mina Cobb Wallace Professor of Gastroenterology and Cancer Prevention and director of the division of Gastroenterology. "This program project funding mechanism by the NCI really puts more expertise into the project."

DuBois will serve as principal investigator and his research group will conduct one of four separate research projects supported in the program. DuBois and his colleagues will continue their work in cells and animal models to learn more about how non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) help prevent colon cancer.

Over the past several years, nearly three dozen studies have been published in the scientific literature documenting a 40-50 percent reduced risk of developing colon cancer among people who regularly take aspirin or other NSAIDs. DuBois and his colleagues' work has focused on the mechanism for that preventive effect, and they have made the link to an enzyme called cyclooxygenase-2 (COX2), one of the primary targets for aspirin and NSAIDs. DuBois and his team have found that COX2 is elevated in colon cancer and have demonstrated in animals that colon tumors will shrink dramatically if treated with drugs that inhibit COX2 activity.

Other researchers in the chemoprevention program are looking at other pieces of the NSAIDS-COX2-colon cancer puzzle. Better understanding of the precise role of COX2 and related biochemical components in the development/prevention of colon cancer is hoped to ultimately lead to development of highly specific drugs to prevent colon cancer, the third leading cancer killer in men and women in the United States.

These scientists include:
The NCI grant also supports a core facility to provide chemical analysis of prostaglandins, which will be directed by Morrow, and a tissue collection and analysis core facility, directed by Dr. Mary Kay Washington, assistant professor of Pathology.

As one of a select group of NCI-designated cancer centers, the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center is a recognized leader in cancer care, treatment and prevention. The VICC is one of only a few NCI-designated centers in the southeast and the only one in Tennessee dedicated to treatment and research in all types of cancer in adults and children. For more information about the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, contact its website at

Vanderbilt University Medical Center

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