Lerner Research Institute News

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Investigating the Influence of Genetic Ancestry on Colorectal Cancer Outcomes

Dr. Schmit’s team will study the role of genetic ancestry in shaping immune-related determinants of colorectal cancer outcomes.


Stephanie Schmit, PhD, MPH, Genomic Medicine Institute, has been awarded a five-year, $3.4 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (part of the National Institutes of Health) to investigate how differences in immunological factors drive disparities in colorectal cancer (CRC) outcomes among racially and ethnically diverse patient populations.

Among certain racial/ethnic minority populations, CRC can be less responsive to therapy and have poorer prognosis than in other populations, even after adjusting for sociodemographic factors. Research suggests that these observed disparities may be explained in part by variations in the tumor immune microenvironment (the non-cancer, immune-related cell components of a tumor). The tumor immune microenvironment includes several cell types, including tumor-infiltrating T lymphocytes, which are a type of white blood cell that penetrates the tumor and attacks cancer cells. However, the extent of this variability and the factors contributing to these variations remain largely unknown. The role of genetic ancestry has yet to be fully explored. 

With this grant, Dr. Schmit’s team will explore the relationships between genetic ancestry, self-reported race/ethnicity, and tumor-associated T lymphocyte quantity, clonal diversity, and spatial distributions that may, in turn, influence CRC outcome disparities. Harnessing biospecimens and data from the Latino Colorectal Cancer Consortium, the study will quantify CRC-associated T lymphocyte characteristics in Latinx patients from diverse genetic ancestral backgrounds—such as African, European and Indigenous American—and investigate their independent associations with genetic ancestry, epidemiologic factors and clinical variables. They also will compare CRC-associated T lymphocyte characteristics between Latinx and non-Hispanic White populations.

“Data from the genetically diverse Latinx population offers the unique opportunity to simultaneously tease out how multiple ancestral backgrounds contribute to immune function,” said Dr. Schmit. “Results from our project will provide new avenues for understanding immunological factors contributing to treatment response and mortality in diverse populations of patients with CRC, which ultimately can be utilized to improve patient outcomes.”

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