University of Southern California
USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center

Gastrointestinal Cancers Program

The overall goal of the Gastrointestinal (GI) Cancers Program is to conduct research on the causes, prevention, and therapy of GI cancers. We have built a strong translational component based on the close collaboration of GI clinicians with basic and population scientists.

The GI Cancers Program has 19 members from 10 academic departments in two Schools organized into the following three areas: Basic Research, Epidemiological Research, and Clinical Research. Under each area, there is active research in all major subsets of GI malignancy (stomach/esophagus, colorectal, hepatobiliary). Members of this Program currently have $8.5 million in direct costs of peer-reviewed funding of which $2.3 million is from the NCI. They interact regularly via a series of weekly and monthly seminars/meetings that facilitate exchange of recent research findings and interdisciplinary collaborations between Program investigators. These structured meetings have resulted in a large number of collaborative projects across the basic, population science, and clinical spectrum. During the last five years, the Program has generated 537 GI-cancer-related publications, of which 159 (30%) were inter-programmatic and 76 (14%) were intra-programmatic.

Drs. Heinz-Josef Lenz and Michael Kahn are the Co-Leaders of the Program. Dr. Lenz is a physician-scientist who is internationally known for his work on the pharmacogenomics and drug development in GI cancers. Dr. Michael Kahn is a basic scientist and expert on signal transduction pathways. He is internationally known for his work in Wnt signaling and has developed a novel Wnt signaling inhibitor which will enter the clinic in 2010.

Other Program investigators who have played pivotal roles in advancing the knowledge base in GI carcinogenesis and treatment outcomes include: 1) Dr. Shelly Lu, who generated critical data on the role of S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) in liver disease, and is a leader in the efforts to test SAMe as an agent for the primary prevention of liver cancer; 2) Dr. James Ou made significant progress in the understanding of carcinogenesis of liver cancer in HepB and HepC based models and is leading the new Program Project; 3) Dr. Graham Casey is an expert in colon cancer carcinogenesis with expertise in genome-wide screening technologies; and 4) Drs. Ladner, Neamati, Lenz and Casey submitted a Program Project on Target Driven Drug Development in Colon Cancer utilizing biomarkers they identified in the clinic as targets for novel drug development.

Publications