Rutgers-Led Team Receives $25 Million to Tackle Debilitating Condition in Late Stages of Cancer

Rutgers Cancer Institute researcher Eileen White leads effort to take on cancer cachexia

A world-class team of researchers, assembled and led by Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and its Deputy Director and Chief Scientific Officer Eileen White, has been awarded a $25 million Cancer Grand Challenges grant to address cancer cachexia – a debilitating condition people often experience in the later stages of their cancer.

The CANCAN (CANcer Cachexia Action Network) team, from Rutgers Cancer Institute and joined by Weill Cornell Medicine’s Marcus DaSilva Goncalves and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s Tobias Janowitz, will tackle the challenge of the wasting condition that is accompanied by fatigue and tissue dysfunction and imparts a poor prognosis and quality of life.

Despite being a major clinical problem, little is understood about cancer cachexia, which lacks effective therapies for people who experience it. By understanding mechanisms causing it, researchers could develop novel interventions to improve treatment response, quality of life and ultimately survival.

The team unites scientists and clinicians with expertise in cancer, metabolism, neuroendocrine function, immunology and more, across 13 institutions throughout the United States and the United Kingdom, aiming to build the world’s first virtual institute with a mission to solve cancer cachexia.

“We’re thrilled to be selected for funding by Cancer Grand Challenges,” said White, who is also associate director of basic research and co-director of the Duncan and Nancy MacMillan Cancer Immunology and Metabolism Center of Excellence at Rutgers Cancer Institute; a Distinguished Professor of molecular biology and biochemistry at Rutgers University-New Brunswick’s School of Arts and Sciences; and associate director of the Ludwig Princeton Branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research at Princeton University. “Cachexia research has been fruitful in recent decades, but it’s been incremental and has not yet generated any effective therapies. We’ve assembled a team with diverse and complementary expertise, which we believe will advance the field and find novel ways to remedy the condition.”

Rutgers Cancer Institute Director Steven K. Libutti, senior vice president, oncology services, RWJBarnabas Health, praised White’s cutting-edge research.

“We are extremely excited that the team that Dr. Eileen White assembled, representing outstanding institutions from across the globe, received this highly competitive award from the Cancer Grand Challenges funding partnership, and that this award will help her team explore such an important area of cancer research on a global level. Studies focused on cancer metabolism and the tumor microenvironment are at the foundation of Rutgers Cancer Institute’s science,’’ he said.

Rutgers Cancer Institute, New Jersey’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, offers the most advanced cancer treatment options including bone marrow transplantation, proton therapy, CAR T-cell therapy and complex surgical procedures. Along with clinical trials and novel therapeutics such as precision medicine and immunotherapy – many of which are not widely available – patients have access to these cutting-edge therapies at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey in New Brunswick and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey at University Hospital in Newark, as well as through RWJBarnabas Health facilities.

“Cancer is a global issue that needs to be met with global collaboration. This investment in team science encourages diverse thinking to problems like cachexia that have long hindered research progress,” said David Scott, director of Cancer Grand Challenges, Cancer Research UK. “Cancer Grand Challenges provides the multidisciplinary teams the time, space and funding to foster innovation and a transformative approach. CANCAN is one of four newly funded teams joining a scientific community addressing unmet clinical needs across cancer research.”

The CANCAN team is one of four new teams announced today as part of Cancer Grand Challenges, representing a total investment of $100 million to diverse, global teams to take on some of the toughest challenges in cancer research. The CANCAN team is spread across 14 institutions across the UK and US: Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey; Weill Cornell Medicine; Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory; Kaiser Permanente Medical Program of Northern California; Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute; Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute; The Salk Institute for Biological Studies; University of Rochester; Harvard Medical School; Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Louisiana State University; University of Cambridge; University College London; and the University of Glasgow.

Cancer Grand Challenges is a global funding platform, co-founded by Cancer Research UK and the National Cancer Institute (part of the National Institutes of Health), which supports a community of diverse, global teams to come together, think differently and take on some of cancer’s toughest challenges.

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Michele Fisher
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