The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research has partnered with Cancer Research UK to give a Grand Challenge award to a team led by Stephen Elledge, PhD at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School. Dr. Elledge’s team is one of three global research teams led by U.S.-based investigators to collectively receive ~$75 million as part of Cancer Research UK’s Grand Challenge competition – an international funding initiative that aims to answer some of the biggest questions facing cancer research, not only in the U.S., but also in the UK and across the world. These teams, respectively, will investigate how the microbiome could be manipulated to treat colorectal cancer, find new ways to tackle cancers caused by chronic inflammation, and develop a deeper understanding of why cancers grow in some tissues but not in others.
Along with his collaborators from the U.S., the UK, and the Netherlands, Dr. Elledge aims to understand why specific genetic defects cause cancer in distinct tissue types. Mutations in the BRCA gene, for example, dramatically increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancers, but rarely if ever cause cancer in other tissues such as the brain or liver. After decades of cancer research, it’s still not understood why many of the most common genetic mistakes that increase the likelihood of developing cancer affect only certain organs in the body. Dr. Elledge’s team is taking a multi-pronged approach to studying these observations and will use the results of their research to find ways to prevent or treat cancer in these organs.
“We think the reason that specific genetic defects cause certain types of cancer comes down to the way different cell types are ‘wired’, and whether the tissue sees it as a ‘GO’ signal or not,” said Dr. Elledge. “We’re going to deconstruct what’s going on by switching cancer genes on and off and tracking the changes in normal, healthy cells from different organs. This will deepen our understanding of the very nature of cancer, and by using cutting-edge technologies like organoids, we hope to find new targets for cancer treatments in future.”
“The aspiration of the Grand Challenge competition to answer the most urgent questions, as well as its scale of funding and impressive advisory panel, offered our foundation an ideal opportunity to tap into a rigorous selection process and grant-making model that perfectly aligns with our goal to fund complex and ambitious science,” said Michele Cleary, CEO of The Mark Foundation. “The Grand Challenge initiative provides outstanding teams with the resources they need to collaborate effectively across scientific disciplines to achieve maximum impact. Dr. Elledge’s team has identified gaps in our understanding of the tissue-specific effects of certain cancer driver mutations and has thoughtfully framed a rigorous approach to addressing this puzzle. We look forward to achieving substantial impact on cancer research through this partnership with Cancer Research UK.”