Cancer Research Center of Hawai'i young scientist receives research award

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Posted: Oct 12, 2009

Dr. Iona Cheng
Dr. Iona Cheng
           Iona Cheng, Ph.D., M.P.H., a young scientist at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa Cancer Research Center of Hawai‘i’s (CRCH) Epidemiology Program, was recently named one of 17 recipients to receive a V Scholar award from the Jim Valvano Foundation for Cancer Research.  Her selection was based on high ranking of her grant proposal titled, “Identifying IGF1 Genetic Susceptibility Variants for Prostate Cancer in African Americans.”  As a V Foundation Scholar, Dr. Cheng will receive a two-year $200,000 grant, which will be used to offset the costs of her research.
            "This highly competitive award is a terrific recognition for Dr. Cheng and the Center's genetic epidemiology research which focuses on understanding ethnic differences in cancer risk,” states Loic Le Marchand, M.D., Ph.D., director of the CRCH Epidemiology Program.  “Dr. Cheng's project on African Americans will generate new critical knowledge on prostate cancer that will benefit all ethnic groups."
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in U.S. men. African Americans have a higher incidence and at least twice the mortality rates of prostate cancer compared to other racial/ethnic groups. The disease is characterized by the disruption of regulatory systems that intervene in normal cell growth and death.  The Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF) system is involved in both of these key pathways and may play an important role in the development of prostate cancer.
            Dr. Cheng and her colleagues’ previous research has linked inherited differences at the IGF1 gene to prostate cancer risk. However, the specific genetic variants responsible for this increased risk of disease have yet to be identified. 
Through the support of the V Foundation, their new study will further investigate the IGF1 gene to identify novel genetic variants and test whether these inherited differences influence the risk of prostate cancer among African American men from the Multiethnic Cohort Study (MEC). The MEC is one of the largest ongoing population studies in the world, having begun in 1988 and representing whites, African Americans, Hispanics, Japanese, and Native Hawaiians. The information being gathered from the MEC is looking at possible links between cancer and nutrition, cancer and other lifestyle factors such as smoking, and to determine whether genes make people more or less susceptible to cancer.
            The long-term goal of Dr. Cheng and her colleagues is to understand the genetic basis of prostate cancer susceptibility, especially among understudied populations with high rates of disease, such as African American males.
            The V Foundation for Cancer Research was started in 1993 by ESPN and Jim Valvano, the former North Carolina basketball coach and award-winning broadcaster, who had been diagnosed with cancer.  The goal of the Foundation was to provide early developmental, critical-stage grant funding to promising young scientists, who would eventually find cures for cancer.The Foundation solicits submissions of grant proposals through the directors of National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers and prominent universities involved in critical cancer research throughout the U.S., who then recommend specific young researchers for the Board’s consideration.