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Harvard: Garrett Wins Grand Challenge Funding to Explore Microbiome Link to Colon Cancer

The burden of colorectal cancer is staggering. In 2018, it was the third-most common diagnosed cancer among both men and women in the U.S., and data indicate that younger adults are increasingly being diagnosed with it.

To help develop new treatments and preventive measures to stop the disease, Cancer Research UK has awarded 20 million pounds to a team of researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Harvard Medical School. The funding, announced on January 22, is part of Cancer Research UK’s Grand Challenge competition— an international funding initiative that aims to answer some of the biggest questions facing cancer research.

The team will focus its efforts on understanding how the microbiome — a collection of trillions of microorganisms throughout the body — affects the development of colorectal cancer. The team will also seek out ways to manipulate the microbiome to better prevent and treat colorectal cancer.

“The colon is the most densely populated microbial environment on the planet. We’ve assembled a global team with a lifelong interest in the microbiome and its huge impact on human health. We’ve already identified certain types of bacteria that appear to be associated with a greater risk of colorectal cancer, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr. Wendy Garrett, professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard Chan School and one of the team’s co-principal investigators.

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