NCI Awards First Funding for Consortium of Cohorts Initiative

National Cancer Institute
Wednesday, 9 July 2003

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) today announced the funding of a new initiative to pool data and biospecimens from 10 large study populations to conduct research on gene-environment interactions in cancer etiology. The investigative teams will collaborate on studies of hormone-related gene variants and environmental factors involved in the development of breast and prostate cancer. Data will be drawn from 8,850 patients with prostate cancer and 6,160 patients with breast cancer.

This initiative is the first research project of the Consortium of Cohorts, a group formed by NCI in 2000 to address the need for large-scale collaborations in the genetic and molecular epidemiology of cancer. By pooling data and samples, epidemiologists and genomicists can more easily generate the large numbers of study participants that are essential to conduct population studies into the role of genes and the environment. The consortium, which currently includes 23 cohorts, is a joint initiative between NCI's Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics (DCEG) and NCI's Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences (DCCPS).

Cohorts are groups of individuals who are followed over time to track the occurrence of disease, and from whom information periodically is collected on medical history, diet and lifestyle, and other characteristics. Biological specimens often are gathered from members of a cohort, as well.

"This consortium," said Robert Hoover, M.D., Sc.D., director of DCEG's Epidemiology and Biostatistics Program, "encourages researchers to establish a coordinated, interdisciplinary approach that will both accelerate the research process and allow scientists to perform subset analyses and confirmatory studies to examine gene-environment and gene-gene interactions in cancer causation. Investigators in these previously separate cohort studies are exploring ways to work together to provide 'instantaneous parallel replication' of one another's findings."

"The funding of this first research initiative," said Edward Trapido, Sc.D., associate director of DCCPS' Epidemiology and Genetics Research Program (EGRP), "is in keeping with the Extraordinary Opportunity to advance research on genes and the environment, highlighted in NCI's Plans and Priorities for Cancer Research for 2004. We are very excited about the increased research capabilities that this consortium will generate." EGRP is managing the four research awards to support the participation of eight of the 10 cohorts. The remaining two cohorts are DCEG research projects.

The cooperative agreements provide a total of $17 million in funding over four years.

The two NCI DCEG cohorts include the etiologic components of the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial and the Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention (ATBC) Study, directed by Richard Hayes, D.D.S, Ph.D. and Demetrius Albanes, M.D., respectively.

The investigators of these 10 cohorts will look for inherited gene variants in biospecimens taken from patients with breast or prostate cancer, and assess the variants' association with the development of the cancers. They then will assess whether the identified gene variants are associated with levels of steroid hormones and growth factors that influence the risk of these cancers. The investigators also will evaluate whether the identified gene variants interact with lifestyle and anthropometric (body measurement) factors that have been associated with risk for the cancers. The overarching aim of the newly funded research project, however, is to test the principle that pooling data and biospecimens across large-scale studies through consortial arrangements is an effective way to approach research on genes and the environment.

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