Biobank Research Breakthrough

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Resources and Research Blog
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Research funded by Fight CRC and the Colon Cancer Coalition reveals genetic differences between cancer-free polyps and polyps that develop into cancer.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN analyzed tissue from over 100 patients with polyps and found genetic, microbiota (bacterial and/or viral species), and telomere-related differences between cancer-free polyps that do not return after successfully being removed at colonoscopy, cancer-free polyps that do return, and polyps that eventually turn into cancer.

Telomeres are located at the ends of the chromosomes and protect the DNA material contained in chromosomes from damage. Telomeres shorten with each cell division and reflect cellular aging.

These findings are exciting for the colorectal cancer community because this information can help determine certain factors at the molecular level that might determine whether a polyp becomes cancerous or not. 

Connection to EAO CRC

Additionally, this work is helping to better understand the genetic, microbial, and telomere related differences in colorectal cancer that develops in young adults compared to colon and rectal cancers that develop at later ages.

According to Dr. Lisa Boardman, lead researcher on the project, “Because colorectal cancer and precancerous polyps are becoming more common in younger people who are not normally recommended to have colon cancer screenings, it is important to identify markers that might improve our ability to identify which younger people are at risk for developing precancerous polyps and cancer.”

Dr. Boardman’s research also uses organoids, living, tiny, replicas of normal colon tissues or polyps, using cells from research participants. Researchers can change the amount of proteins that a gene makes, expose cells to microbiota, or alter telomere length to better understand what makes a polyp turn into cancer. The ability to determine the risk of a polyp becoming cancer can ultimately benefit patients and health care systems by “reducing costs, risks, and improving the use of colonoscopy,” according to Dr. Boardman.

Partnering to accelerate research

Fight CRC awarded $150,000 to Dr. Boardman in 2020 through the generosity of Ron Doornink (Fight CRC Board Member) and The Ron and Martha Doornink Foundation to develop the Fight CRC PreCancer Biobank. 

The Colon Cancer Coalition graciously matched $50,000, donated by Dan and Paula McQuillen, who lost their son, Sean, in 2011 at the young age of 34 following a stage IV colon cancer diagnosis and a brief 30-day fight. The Fight CRC PreCancer Biobank is an extension of a previous project started at the Mayo Clinic in 2000 called the Biobank for Gastrointestinal Health Research.

Where does the research go from here?

Dr. Boardman’s research continues to progress rapidly. Since receiving funding from Fight CRC and the Colon Cancer Coalition, Dr. Boardman’s team continues to enroll participants in the Fight CRC PreCancer Biobank.

In the next few months, researchers will analyze blood and tissue samples to validate a set of gene-, microbiota-, and telomere-related events that distinguish a person’s risk for developing polyps, risk for recurrence of precancerous polyps, or risk for a polyp to progress to CRC. This information will be linked to other data that has already been collected from these participants, including stool samples and questionnaires about lifestyle habits and risk factors for developing colorectal cancer.

“Brilliant researchers like Dr. Boardman often struggle to get funding for out-of-the-box research proposals that have the potential to deliver fantastic results, but may not succeed. That’s because the big providers of funding are quite risk-averse. This is where the Fight CRC community comes in. Together, we can be the kickstarter of the colorectal cancer research world. Dr Boardman’s program, funded with the help of Fight CRC, demonstrates that we can do this successfully!”

Ron Doornink, Fight CRC Board Member

Based on the work funded by Fight CRC and Colon Cancer Coalition, Dr. Boardman is now pursuing additional multi-million dollar funding opportunities from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to expand this work even further. Dr. Boardman emphasizes that “by improving detection and treatment of pre-cancerous polyps, we have the potential for a colorectal cancer-free future for all.”

Fight CRC is committed to supporting research. We know how vital research is to lead us on the path to a cure.

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