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The SPORE in Gastrointestinal Cancer

Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center's SPORE in Gastrointestinal (GI) Cancer was established in 2002 and is one of only four GI SPORES in the nation. Our SPORE focuses on the prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment of colorectal cancer – the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, affecting more men and women than all other gastrointestinal malignancies combined.


The Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center SPORE in GI Cancer represents multiple laboratories working together closely and effectively with clinical investigators to make a profound impact on the prevention, early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of colorectal cancer.

Vanderbilt’s GI SPORE has made discoveries and advances that hold great promise toward improvement of the management of individuals with colorectal cancer, including:

  • Discovery of a novel Wnt antagonist (pyrvinium) and its target (casein kinase 1a)
  • Discovery of a biologically-based, prognostic gene signature for colorectal cancer
  • Evidence that p120 acts as a tumor suppressor in colorectal cancer
  • Development, biological validation and clinical implementation of novel molecular imaging modalities to predict early response to treatment 
  • Further development of a unique biorepository of colorectal adenomas, as well as matched normal rectal mucosa and bodily fluids (serum and urine)

The SPORE in GI Cancer supports four scientific research projects, three cores that provide essential services to SPORE projects, a developmental research program to support pilot projects, and career development opportunities for physician-scientists in training.

GI SPORE Research Projects

Our research is focused on reducing the incidence, morbidity and mortality of colorectal cancer. Our GI SPORE is comprised of a team of highly interactive clinical investigators and basic scientists working together in a collegial environment with strong inter-SPORE, pharmaceutical, national and international collaborations.

Learn more about our GI SPORE research projects and cores.

Molecular Imaging & Targeted Therapeutics of Stem Cell-Derived Colon Cancer

Targeting K-Ras in CRC

Molecular Markers for CRC Recurrence

Genetic and Epigenetic Markers for Colorectal Adenoma Recurrence

Developmental Research

The Vanderbilt GI SPORE Developmental Research Program (DRP) encourages innovative translational research in GI neoplasia. The GI SPORE DRP uses an established and highly effective procedure to solicit applications twice yearly from investigators at Vanderbilt and Meharry Medical College. Pilot projects are evaluated by internal and external reviewers, including members of the GI SPORE External Advisory Board (EAB), using the NIH 9-point scoring system. Proposals are reviewed for scientific merit and the likelihood of leading to extramural funding. Special emphasis is placed on attracting young investigators into GI cancer research, high risk/high gain projects, and emerging technologies and their application to GI cancer research. The DRP Director and Co-Directors make the final selections. Award amounts of  up to $50,000 per project.

Learn more about our GI SPORE Funding Opportunities as well as funding through other programs. 

Career Development Program

The Vanderbilt GI SPORE Career Developmental Program (CDP) aims to prepare individuals for successful careers in GI cancer research and care. Scholars are selected via two established mechanisms: the Vanderbilt Physician Scientist Development (VPSD) Award and the GI SPORE Career Opportunity Award (COA). The VPSD track is designed for junior faculty with an MD or MD/PhD degree and provides two years of support with 75% time for research and training. The COA track is more flexible and provides one to two years of support to MDs and/or PhDs at any level. It is designed to attract junior PhD investigators to enter GI cancer research and to encourage established investigators to transition to GI cancer research.

Training in both tracks is tailored to the individual investigator, is overseen by the CDP Mentoring Panel, and is supported by myriad institutional resources that assure our Scholars thrive. Scholars form an interdisciplinary mentoring committee, participate in regular work-in-progress presentations, receive formal evaluation each year, participate in a twice-monthly career development seminar series and are regularly exposed to case studies on responsible conduct of research. They have access to: biostatistics consultation; manuscript preparation workgroups; technical editing of completed products; studios with experts to vet scientific ideas, research designs and aims; robust intramural pilot and feasibility funding; and grant writing support, including grant workshops, a funded grant library and mock study sections.

Tools are in place to evaluate both mentees and mentors and to continuously enhance our program. Further oversight is provided by the Office of Clinical and Translational Scientist Development (CTSD) and the GI SPORE Administrative Core.

Combined, these efforts ensure that we carefully foster excellence in the next generation of GI researchers.

Featured Publications

Research Advocacy

Since 2003, research advocates have been an integral part of the GI SPORE team, offering patient experiences and perspectives into GI SPORE research at VICC. These committed cancer survivors and caregivers are actively involved helping to bring the best science to those who are affected by colorectal cancer by contributing in the following ways:

  • Serve on GI SPORE Institutional Advisory Board
  • Attend SPORE research conferences and seminars
  • Attend monthly project meetings
  • Review and provide input on research development and design, clinical trials and informed consents
  • Develop patient-oriented resources and tools for SPORE clinical trials
  • Raise awareness about cancer research and clinical trials through presentations to patient and community groups
  • Serve as advisory members on other Vanderbilt committees and initiatives
  • Facilitate collaborations with local, regional, and national organizations dedicated to colorectal cancer
  • Participate in on-going advocate continuing education sessions

Contact the GI SPORE Team

  • For research/medical questions, contact the principal investigator: Robert J. Coffey, Jr., M.D.
  • For questions about our research advocacy program, contact Abby Shields, Program Manager.
  • For questions about SPORE grant pilot funding, contact Meghan O'Loughlin, Program Manager.