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  • Writer's pictureLeila Okahata

Dr. Cecil’s colon cancer research wins award from American Association for Cancer Research


Photo Credits: Lisa Stromme Warren


CVI Principal Scientist Dr. Denise Cecil and her team were recognized by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) for their research on activating the immune system against colon cancer. They were announced winners of this year's Cancer Prevention Research Award for Outstanding Journal Article.


Holding promise for continued substantive contributions to the cancer field, Dr. Cecil’s team has been working on strategies to harness the immune system to intercept and prevent colon cancer. Colon cancer, or colorectal cancer, is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. However, it is one of the most preventable cancers if found early. 


To call attention, March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. 


Colon cancer begins with polyps, small outgrowths or bumps in the walls of the colon or rectum. It takes about 10 years for polyps to become cancerous but screening and removing them before they become dangerous can reduce the risk of colon cancer.


However, one in three American adults aged 45 and older remains unscreened or untested. Moreover, colon cancer is on the rise among young and middle-aged adults.


Dr. Cecil and colleagues are using anti-inflammatory drugs to modify the immune environment to help prevent colon cancer. Described in a 2022 scientific paper published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, their treatment with anti-inflammatories celecoxib and naproxen assists cells in the immune system that are important for cancer elimination: CD8 T cells. Tumor cells, however, have evolved mechanisms to evade the immune system, particularly a protein called PD-L1. PD-L1 can deactivate CD8 T cells, allowing the tumor to survive the attack. To counteract this, celecoxib and naproxen therapy can disarm PD-L1, providing an opening for CD8 T cells to kill the tumor.


These anti-inflammatories have shown promise in mouse models, with treatment resulting in an increased influx of anti-cancer cells and a decreased number of intestinal polyps.


Dr. Cecil and colleagues are also developing a vaccine to intercept colon cancer. The vaccine is currently in preclinical development and the team plans to conduct clinical trials for high-risk populations within the next few years. 


On behalf of her team, Dr. Cecil will be accepting the award at the AACR Annual Meeting 2024 in San Diego, California. She is honored to have this recognition.


“I'm doing this work because I love it and think it's important. But to have other people also think it's important is truly what makes it special,” she said.


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