Cancer Ribbons

University of Minnesota Team Announced as Finalists for Worldwide Cancer Grand Challenges

A research team led by two world-renowned tobacco researchers from the University of Minnesota has been named as one of 11 global finalists for the Cancer Grand Challenges with the chance to be awarded a share of £80 million ($100 million) for their cancer research project. The final chosen teams will each receive up to £20 million ($25 million) to carry out their team science on a global scale. 

Dorothy Hatsukami, PhD, a professor in the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and Irina Stepanov, PhD, a Mayo professor in the School of Public Health’s Division of Environmental Health Sciences, are leading the Multinational Consortium on Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (MCENDS) team of 19 investigators. With researchers from seven different countries on six different continents, the team will create a new global consortium to understand the potential risks and benefits of e-cigarettes and inform international tobacco control stakeholders on the impact of their use.

“The Grand Challenge has allowed us to think big, creatively, and beyond conventional methods of conducting science,” said Dr. Hatsukami. “We have been able to tap into ideas and innovations from diverse scientific areas, such as digital technology, biomarkers of different diseases, computational modelling, and integrate them to address a major public health challenge.”

“In assembling the MCENDS team, we brought together world-class experts from different countries, each contributing a unique set of research tools and infrastructure,” noted Dr. Stepanov. “Being short-listed to submit a full application reinforces our vision for this trans-disciplinary consortium and for its capacity to inform the prevention of cancer and other diseases globally.”

The 11 research team finalists were narrowed down from a pool of 169 diverse, global teams of investigators. The team finalists will each submit a full application to Cancer Grand Challenges by the middle of October. The teams will then travel to the United Kingdom to present their proposals, with final decisions and awards being presented in early 2022.

"Innovation is catalyzed by scientists and researchers who are committed to reinventing the future by coming together and combining expertise," said Jakub Tolar, MD, PhD, dean of the Medical School and vice president for Clinical Affairs. "The work being done by this team epitomizes the kind of stellar research that occurs when innovative scientific advances are linked to addressing cancer’s toughest problems."

What are the short- and long-term health outcomes of e-cigarette use in people with a history of cigarette smoking different smoking histories? And how do characteristics like nicotine dose and flavour intersect with behavioural support delivered through digital technology to influence the use and health impact of these devices?

The MCENDS team hopes to look at the short- and long-term health outcomes of e-cigarette use in people through a number of first-of-their-kind studies, including large, global clinical trials and longitudinal cohort studies investigating e-cigarettes. The team also plans to explore whether it’s possible to predict risk of specific health outcomes, such as cancer or respiratory or cardiovascular disease, with detectable signatures like exhaled “breath prints.”  

“It is well established that tobacco use has detrimental effects on health,” said Douglas Yee, MD, Masonic Cancer Center Director. “Use of e-cigarettes as a nicotine delivery method has both risks and benefits — with benefits likely only accruing to active tobacco users. By performing the type of research proposed in the Cancer Grand Challenges grant, we will be able to make informed public policy decisions regarding e-cigarette use.

About the Cancer Grand Challenges
Cancer Grand Challenges is a global funding platform founded in 2020 by the two largest funders of cancer research in the world: Cancer Research UK and the National Cancer Institute in the US. Through a series of £20m awards, the group supports world-class, multidisciplinary teams of scientists to come together, think differently, and find bold new solutions to some of cancer’s toughest challenges. Find out more:

About the Masonic Cancer Center
The Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota, is the Twin Cities’ only Comprehensive Cancer Center, designated ‘Outstanding’ by the National Cancer Institute. As Minnesota’s Cancer Center, we have served the entire state for more than 25 years. Our researchers, educators, and care providers have worked to discover the causes, prevention, detection, and treatment of cancer and cancer-related diseases. Learn more at

This story was originally published on July 13, 2021 by the University of Minnesota

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