EGRP News Flash - April 3, 2009

NCI Priority Areas of Interest to Cancer Epidemiologists

On behalf of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the Epidemiology and Genetics Research Program (EGRP) would like to make investigators aware of several NCI priority topic areas relevant to the fields of epidemiology and genetics:

  • Treatment and clinical records for cancer patients in case control, cohort, and familial studies for etiology studies of cancer
    Obtaining clinical and treatment data on cancer patients poses some formidable technical challenges for investigators studying the role of genetic, environmental factors, and cancer treatment factors and their interactions in the risk of recurrence, survival, and new primary cancers. This priority topic encourages projects that collect and integrate cancer-directed therapy data from cancer patients in existing case-control, cohort, and familial studies, for the purpose of better understanding the determinants of primary cancer, cancer recurrence, other secondary outcomes, survival, and new primary cancers.
  • Biospecimen Sharing Infrastructure
    Understanding the role of the genetic and environmental determinants that cause cancer requires well-designed studies that collect biospecimens from an extremely large number of patients and healthy individuals. These studies are not achievable by any single institution and require the pooling of biospecimen resources by institutions across the country. In addition, biospecimen resources are finite (can be used up) and careful tracking as well as replenishment of such resources when possible need to be implemented on a national level across institutions. This priority research topic encourages projects that establish processes, protocols, and databases for the exchange, sharing, and pooling of biospecimens across cancer epidemiology studies and develop and implement infrastructures and technologies to maintain, process, and replenish such shared resources.
  • Enhance Consortia Biospecimen Resources
    Biospecimens are crucial resources for any study of the role of genetic and environmental factors on cancer risk and progression. This priority area encourages projects that assure that high quality standards (as determined by NCI's Office of Biorepositories and Biospecimen Research and Cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid (caBIG)) are applied to the collection, maintenance, and distribution of the precious biospecimen resources accumulated from patients participating in NCI-supported interdisciplinary consortia. It will assure that the biospecimens are preserved in optimal condition for use in biochemical, functional, and genetic assays and that best industry standards are adhered to. Further, it will help create the infrastructure to keep track of the specimens and the important clinical data connected to them.
  • Methylation profiling of previously collected DNA samples from existing human population studies
    Regulation of the activity of human genes is essential to the process of cancer development. One important way genes are regulated is through the addition or deletion of a chemical methyl group to critical areas on human chromosomes. Chemical, physical, genetic, and nutritional factors, as well as infectious agents, can affect this methylation process. Recently developed technologies have allowed for a more accurate assessment of the extent and nature of methylation in people's genes. This technique has not yet been applied in large-scale human studies. This priority topic encourages projects that will help understand what factors influence the process of methylation, and how methylation patterns differ in people with and without cancer. It will also be important to integrate this information with data derived from studies focusing on genetic, metabolic, and environmental factors influencing cancer risk.
  • Extension of GWAS to New Phenotypes, Analyses, Technologies, and Populations
    This priority topic area encourages projects that 1) examine additional cancer phenotypes such as heritable intermediate phenotypes, disease subtypes, disease severity, second cancers, and risk of relapse, 2) develop and apply more sophisticated analysis techniques to existing genome-wide association study (GWAS) datasets, and 3) develop and apply novel technologies and analytical methods to evaluate the contribution of genetic factors such as rare variants and copy number variation to cancer. Particular emphasis is placed on utilizing these approaches for the study of populations which could address cancer health disparities.
  • Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Cancer Susceptibility
    Cancer occurrence rates vary among different populations. The reasons for these disparities are not entirely clear. For example, the incidence of colon cancer is lower in Latin Americans and higher in Japanese Americans. The incidence of prostate cancer in African Americans is significantly higher than that of other racial/ethnic groups. African-American women are more likely to be diagnosed with aggressive, high-grade, and estrogen and progesterone negative disease, which contributes to the greater breast cancer mortality in African Americans compared to European Americans. These disparities presumably reflect both the differing prevalence of unknown environmental risk factors as well as increased frequency of underlying genetic susceptibility alleles and social and behavioral factors. This priority topic area encourages projects that study the reasons for racial and ethnic disparities in cancer susceptibility in human populations.
  • Biomarker-Based Validation of Diet and Physical Activity Assessment Tools in Existing Cohorts
    Food frequency questionnaires (FFQs) typically used in cohort studies contain sufficient measurement error to obscure important diet-disease associations, and research on the use of activity monitors indicates significant disagreement between self-reported activity and objective data. Given the strong likelihood that diet and physical activity influence both the incidence of and survival from malignant disease, clarification of nutrition-cancer relations through improved exposure assessment techniques would have important preventive and clinical implications. To reduce measurement error, NCI has developed novel Internet-based diet and physical activity recall instruments and new statistical techniques that combine data from the Internet-based tools with data from conventional instruments, self-reports, and biomarker studies. This priority topic area encourages projects with the capacity to administer conventional FFQs and physical activity questionnaires along with the new Internet-based diet and physical activity recalls, have access to clinical facilities for biomarker studies, and are able to conduct the study among multiple existing U.S. cohorts. Large numbers of people from cohorts in diverse geographic areas and among different racial and ethnic groups will be needed. At a minimum, biomarker studies should include resting metabolic rate, total energy expenditure, body composition measured by DEXA, heart rate, fasting bloods, and 24-hour urines. Further comparisons of the Internet-based and conventional self-report instruments with newer biomarkers, including metabolomics profiles and urinary markers of sugar and meat intake would be of interest. This effort will require collaboration and data harmonization across studies. For more information, see a recent NCI White PaperExternal Web Site Policy (pdf) on this topic.

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