Andreana N. Holowatyj, PhD, MS, Emphasizes the Complexity of Her Research in Colorectal Cancer and Future Opportunities


Holowatyj spoke about the molecular differences of early-onset colorectal cancer by race, while maintaining that race is a social construct, leading to a multitude of options for future research.

In a conversation with CancerNetwork®, Andreana N. Holowatyj, PhD, MS, of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, walked through the potential future research to come from her data presented at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2021, while emphasizing that race is just a small piece of a very complex puzzle for this research focusing on tumor mutation burden by race in early-onset colorectal cancer.


This is just the tip of the iceberg. Of course, these studies warrant further validation, but this work is the first of its kind in revealing molecular differences, specifically within the population of early-onset microsatellite stable colorectal cancer by race. This can start to help us understand if molecular features of the tumor may be contributing to some of these disparities in disease burden and disproportionate burden across the population groups. And our findings yield clinical implications, both in the results for tumor mutation burden differences, but also in potentially helping to develop therapeutic or prognostic markers, specifically for early-onset colorectal cancer, and [by] facilitate precision medicine for young patients diagnosed with this disease.

I do want to acknowledge first and foremost that race is a social construct. Data on genetic ancestry are not available for GENIE cases. That’s one direction to take this work in further. In addition, it’s important to consider that race is just 1 piece of a really complex puzzle where a network of interrelated factors, both at the individual and societal level, contribute to early-onset colorectal cancer disparities. And that will be important to consider in work moving forward beyond this study. Our hope is to move this work into the pre-clinical setting at the laboratory bench and better understand some of the molecular mechanisms that may be driving some of these distinct molecular patterns that we’ve observed for the population of [patients with] early-onset colorectal cancer.


Holowatyj AN, Wen W, Gibbs T, et al. Advancing Cancer Research Through An International Cancer Registry: AACR Project GENIE Use Cases. Presented at: AACR Annual Meeting 2021. Virtual. Abstract 101.

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