Colon cancer research at USC received a boost from the Southern California-based Dhont Family Foundation, as the foundation renewed its commitment of its $1 million gift to fund Heinz-Josef Lenz’s research in colorectal cancer at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Lenz, MD, who is the associate director for clinical research and co-leader of the Gastrointestinal Cancers Program at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, has conducted several breakthrough research studies, including:

• Showing that the drug PRI-724 has efficacy for gastrointestinal cancers and leukemia. (Lenz and Michael Kahn, PhD, Provost Professor of Medicine and Pharmacy, were instrumental in developing PRI-724.)

• Identifying novel genetic markers and pathways in colon and gastric cancer to tailor therapies to individual patients and to develop new drugs.

• Leading two major clinical trials using biomarkers to assign therapies, and developing the largest patient-derived explant mouse models to test new drugs.

Lenz attributes his success to receiving needed funding at a critical time. “Without the Dhont Family Foundation’s support, we wouldn’t have the leading program in colon oncology, and we wouldn’t have the National Institutes of Health funding that we do,” he said. “We perform high-risk, high-impact research, and the foundation’s commitment means that we can immediately act on theories and translate them into experiments.”

Currently, Lenz and his team are researching molecular predictors of tumor recurrence.

“We have been successful in identifying DNA variations, but the next step would be to understand the genetic makeup of tumors and predict tumor recurrence,” he explained.

“We have been impressed with Dr. Lenz’s research, and are happy to commit to supporting his work to find appropriate therapies and cures for colon cancer,” said Andre Dhont, executive officer of the Dhont Family Foundation.

The Dhont Family Foundation was founded in 1998 and helps fund local projects in Southern California.

— By Amy E. Hamaker