Five-year, $10.67 million grant will fund four major projects
Monday, September 14, 2015

Researchers at the University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center have received the first-ever Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant to study neuroendocrine tumors. SPORE grants are funded through the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health.

The five-year, $10.67 million grant is the only SPORE grant funding research on neuroendocrine tumors.

Sue O’Dorisio, professor of pediatrics in the Stead Family Department of Pediatrics and the UI Children’s Hospital, is the principal investigator on the SPORE grant.  

Neuroendocrine tumors are slow-growing cancers that occur primarily in adults but could also occur in children. They develop where the nervous and endocrine systems interact and are most commonly found in the small intestine, lungs, and pancreas. They are related to medulloblastomas and neuroblastomas that are most commonly found in children, and also will be studied in the SPORE.

This is the first SPORE grant ever awarded to fund research on neuroendocrine tumors. Support provided by the Holden Family endowment and the UI Dance Marathon Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Laboratories through the UI Foundation are also contributing to the neuroendocrine tumor research effort at the UI.

"The incidence of neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) has increased five-fold over the last three decades, and many patients are not diagnosed until the tumors have metastasized," says O’Dorisio. “Although patients with these tumors may have prolonged survival despite advanced stage, further understanding of the molecular biology of NETs holds the promise for earlier diagnosis and curative therapy. Our grant is based on the hypothesis that analyzing the gene expression profiles of these tumors will allow us to identify important mutations and metabolic changes that will facilitate clinical advances for patients with these tumors.” 

The four major projects of the SPORE explore the genetics of these tumors, their molecular makeup, and how this information can be used to develop new approaches to diagnosis and treatment. Researchers at Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center are playing significant roles in the new highly collaborative NET SPORE and come from the departments of pediatrics, internal medicine, surgery, radiology, pharmacology, pathology, radiation oncology, epidemiology, biostatistics, chemistry, and biomedical engineering. In addition to O’Dorisio, other UI SPORE investigators include Thomas O’Dorisio, Yusuf Menda, Molly Martin, Dawn Quelle, Benjamin Darbro, Terry Braun, James Howe, Andrew Bellizzi, Michael Schultz, David Bushnell, Mark Madsen, Christopher Pigge, Michael Knudson, Chuck Lynch, Joseph Dillon, Douglas Spitz, Daniel Vaena, and Gideon Zamba.

“Treatment of these rare, life-threatening malignant diseases represents a major breakthrough in both pediatric and adult cancer medicine, significantly enhancing our ability to ensure access to cutting edge care for these patients in Iowa and beyond. Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center and UI Children’s Hospital have become the only referral centers in the country where patients, adult and children, with these diagnoses are eligible to obtain this innovative tumor-targeted treatment,” says Yatin M. Vyas, director of pediatric hematology-oncology and vice chair of research at UI Children’s Hospital.

“We are extremely pleased and grateful to the NCI and our peers for having chosen our SPORE for funding,” says George Weiner, director of Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the UI. “This is the second SPORE-funded research project at Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center, and the first-ever neuroendocrine tumor SPORE. That speaks volumes to the level of trust our peers have in our research team and our institution. It solidifies our status as a world leader in both research and treatment of neuroendocrine cancer.”