Public Release:  Morelli receives AACR fellowship for research in metastatic colorectal cancer

University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, accepted the one-year, $50,000 grant at the AACR Annual Meeting 2013 grants reception and dinner. The award is one of six granted to MD Anderson researchers and faculty at the meeting.

The Fight Colorectal Cancer-AACR Fellowship, in memory of Lisa Dubow, represents a joint effort to encourage and support a postdoctoral or clinical research fellow conducting translational or clinical research on therapeutic approaches for late stage colorectal cancer. The grant supports a project designed to lead to individualized treatment options for patients.

Colorectal cancer is the fourth common cancer diagnosed in the United States each year. The National Cancer Institute estimates 142,820 new cases of colon or rectal cancer bill be diagnosed in 2013, and 50,830 patients will die of the disease.

Over the last decade, the development of anti-epidermal growth factor receptor monoclonal antibodies, such as cetuximab and panitumumab, has improved the clinical outcomes in metastatic colorectal cancer patients who don't have KRAS mutations. Yet, not all of these select patients obtain clinical benefits, and refinement of the predictive biomarker is necessary, says Scott Kopetz, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in MD Anderson's Department of Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology.

"A patient's tumor is composed of many variations of always-changing cancer cells," said Kopetz, Morelli's mentor. "Standard methods don't capture the current state of the cancer at the time that treatment is started. With recently developed techniques, the patient's blood can provide an increasingly transparent window into the current inter-workings of the cell, allowing better selection of chemotherapy treatments."

Morelli's project will aim to answer specific clinical research questions relevant to the biology of colorectal cancer, and provide insights that may advance the care of patients in the near future.

"Specifically, we will focus on two critical aspects of tumor biology that are anticipated to have profound clinical outcomes: the recognition that both tumor heterogeneity and the acquired mutations in KRAS and EGFR play a substantial role in determining resistance to chemotherapy," Morelli said.

Lisa Dubow was 42 years old when she was diagnosed with Stage III colorectal cancer, which later recurred. A founder of the Fight Colorectal Cancer, Dubow also worked for the "Lisa Fund," which supports researchers and is dedicated to improving therapies and outcomes for patients with late-stage disease.

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