Researchers win V Foundation grant to study gene mutations in African-American patients

Headshot of Sanford Markowitz
Sanford Markowitz

The Stuart Scott Memorial Cancer Research Fund, created by the V Foundation in January 2015 to honor the memory of Stuart Scott, ESPN news anchor, has awarded Sanford Markowitz a three-year, $600,000 grant to support research into the causes of increased cancer mortality in minority populations. Markowitz is the Ingalls Professor of Cancer Genetics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and a medical oncologist at University Hospitals Case Medical Center’s Seidman Cancer Center. He is also the cancer genetics program leader of the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“We deeply appreciate the support of the V Foundation and the special obligation that comes with this grant honoring Stuart Scott’s name and memory,” Dr. Markowitz said. “This grant will move research forward to understand why colon cancers are more lethal when they develop in African-Americans. Our aim is for the knowledge gained to hopefully benefit African-Americans who develop colon cancer and to potentially help us to develop new methods to improve colon cancer outcomes in the African-American community.”

The V Foundation for Cancer Research and family members representing Stuart Scott launched the new fund in January 2015 following his fight against cancer. Scott, who passed away in 2014, was a champion for cancer research and participated in a clinical trial. He was a passionate voice for improving outcomes for African-Americans and other minorities with cancer.

Markowitz and his team are one of only three national recipients of the new fund, which aims to catalyze cutting-edge research designed to answer questions such as, why are some cancers are more aggressive and more fatal in African-Americans?

“The Stuart Scott Memorial Cancer Research Fund supports cancer research in the most vulnerable and disproportionately impacted communities battling cancer,” says Carole Wegner, vice president of research and grants administration at the V Foundation. “Stuart was a passionate voice for improving outcomes for African-Americans and other minorities with cancer.”

The award will help expand Markowitz’s groundbreaking studies of genetic differences between colon cancers that develop in African-Americans as compared with Caucasians. Along with Markowitz, the V Foundation award team includes: Kishore Guda, Joseph Willis, Zhenghe Wang, Jill Barnholtz-Sloan, Thomas LaFramboise, Martina Veigl and Alex Miron, all of Case Western Reserve, and James K.V. Willson of the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

In January 2015, Dr. Markowitz and his team at Case Western Reserve University and UH Case Medical Center identified new gene mutations unique to colon cancers in African-Americans—the population with the highest incidence and death rates of any group for this disease. These findings, published in the Jan. 12 edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences were jointly led by first author Guda, co-senior author Willis and by Markowitz. The research also included collaborating authors Veigl, Miron and Wilson along with Vinay Varadan, W. David Sedwick, Zhenghe John Wang, Neil Molyneaux and Robert C. Elston of the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center; Arman Nosrati, Lakshmeswari Ravi, James Lutterbaugh and Lydia Beard of the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine; and Mark D. Adams of the J. Craig Venter Institute.

Guda and Varadan published findings involving genetic characteristics of African-Americans with colon cancer in July 2015 in Genome Medicine. Additional contributing authors included Barnholtz-Sloan, Markowitz and Willis, along with Salendra Singh, Arman Nosrati, Lakshmeswari Ravi, and James Lutterbaugh.

There are many examples of cancer disparities among minority populations in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent data, black men have the highest cancer incidence rates, and black men and women both have a higher cancer death rate than their white counterparts. Cancer is the leading cause of death among Hispanics, accounting for 21 percent of deaths overall and 15 percent of deaths in children.