Newswise — Cancer Research UK has awarded a 20-million-pound grant (about $26 million U.S.) to a team of international investigators, including Vanderbilt’s James Goldenring, MD, PhD, to study inflammation-related cancers.

Goldenring and other co-investigators from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Israel will seek to develop strategies for preventing cancer in patients with chronic inflammation and to devise new treatments for those cancers. Their initiative is one of three new projects to have been awarded a multimillion-pound grant as part of the charity’s global Grand Challenge, an ambitious endeavor that launched in 2017 with four previous grants of a similar scale.

“Individually, these research teams are among the best in the world in their respective fields,” said Ian Foulkes, PhD, executive director of research and innovation for Cancer Research UK. “By bringing them together across borders, Grand Challenge is enabling these teams to think bigger and establish new and exciting collaborations. The scale of the funding reflects the opportunity we see in harnessing their ability to understand and tackle cancer.”

Cancer Research UK receives no government funding from the United Kingdom and relies on donations to support its mission. Edward Harlow, PhD, professor of Cancer Education and Research at Harvard Medical School, serves as a member of the Grand Challenge advisory panel

“I’m not aware of any funding opportunities anywhere in the world that can integrate this many international cancer experts on projects of such clear importance,” Harlow said. “These teams have been brought together to tackle many of the biggest challenges we currently face in cancer research. We can see from the progress already achieved how powerful it is to support collaborations of this scale.”

In his role, Goldenring will focus on gastrointestinal cancers.

“Almost all GI cancers are related to or are associated with inflammation,” said Goldenring, Paul W. Sanger Professor of Experimental Surgery. “With this grant, we will look at the interactions between the cells lining the stomach, colon and esophagus with stroma cells.”

The researchers will investigate how these interactions and inflammation lead to precancerous lesions and eventually to cancer. Goldenring will focus on gastric cancer, the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. He is an expert on gastric metaplasia, abnormal cell changes within the lining of the stomach that are a precursor to cancer. A site-co-investigator on the project is EunyoungChoi, PhD, assistant professor of Surgery. Jimin Min, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow, will assist Goldenring and Choi at Vanderbilt.

The primary investigator leading the team of international researchers is Thea Tlsty, PhD, of the University of California San Francisco.

“So far, research has mostly focused on cancer cells, but doing this is like tuning into just one side of a conversation,” Tlsty said. “Our project will enable us to hear the other side of that conversation and uncover how the surrounding stromal environment affects cancer development and where inflammation plays a role in this. We can then devise new approaches to treatment from repurposing everyday anti-inflammatory drugs to designing drugs that target cancer-promoting tissues.”

Other researchers are from Stanford University, Harvard University, McGill University, Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, Queen Mary University of London, Weizmann Institute of Science and Institute for Systems Biology.

The Grand Challenge grants awarded so far by Cancer Research UK total 130 million pounds.

“We don’t have a lot of international granting possibilities,” Goldenring said. “Usually, they are relatively small amounts of money, so this is a different approach to have an international consortium grant. Our involvement in this is dependent on Vanderbilt being a big center for not only gastric cancer research, but cancer research in general. We would not have a shot at this if we didn’t have support from Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. Obviously, we are very grateful for the continuing support of the institution, in particular the Epithelial Biology Center and the Section of Surgical Sciences. These all support the success of our research team.”