Pennington Biomedical Faculty Are Part of Rutgers-led Team Shortlisted for up to $25 million in Cancer Research Funding

Team Will Investigate Tumors’ Role in Muscle Wasting that Accounts for 1/3 of Cancer Deaths

For more information, contact: Ted Griggs,, 225-288-8840

July  14, 2021

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana – Two Pennington Biomedical Research Center faculty are members of one of the teams shortlisted to compete for up to $25 million in funding through the Cancer Grand Challenges awards.

Cancer Grand Challenges is a global funding initiative, founded by Cancer Research UK and the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health.  On Monday, the initiative released the names of the 11 shortlisted teams that will compete for a share of $100 million.

The Pennington Biomedical researchers are Steven Heymsfield, MD, Professor and Director, Metabolism and Body Composition Laboratory, and Justin C. Brown, PhD, Assistant Professor and Director, Cancer Energetics Laboratory.  They are part of the Cancer Cachexia Action Network (CANCAN), a team of scientists led by Eileen White, PhD, Deputy Director of the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and Associate Director, Ludwig Princeton Branch, Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research.  Uniting researchers from the U.S. and the UK, the team draws together a unique set of expertise – including cancer, metabolism, neuroendocrinology, immunology and more.

Cachexia is a form of “metabolic mutiny” characterized by a dramatic loss of skeletal muscle and often accompanied by substantial weight loss, according to the National Cancer Institute.  Some estimates show that cachexia accounts for nearly one-third of cancer deaths.

“Our central hypothesis is that cachexia is driven by the tumor, which activates neurohormonal sickness pathways that lead to anorexia, metabolic dysfunction and tissue wasting,” Dr. White said.  “We plan to explore the systemic metabolic imbalance between tumor and host, the role of inflammation in controlling appetite, and the potential of dietary and pharmacological interventions.”

Cachexia touches on nearly every system in the body, and the CANCAN team comprises a diverse range of expertise to reflect this, including cancer, metabolism, neuroendocrinology, immunology and more.

”By getting to the bottom of cancer cachexia, the team hopes to provide the benchmark for care around the world,” Dr. Heymsfield said.

“We are thrilled to be part of a group of investigators bringing new ideas and approaches to this critical unmet need,” Dr. Brown said.

Cancer Grand Challenges drew ideas for solving some of cancer’s toughest questions from nearly 170 teams in more than 60 countries.  The 11 teams that made the shortlist will receive seed funding to develop their ideas into full proposals.  In early 2022, four of the teams will be selected to receive up to $25 million each in funding to pursue their cancer solutions.

“This round of Cancer Grand Challenges has demonstrated the fresh thinking that can be sparked when global teams unite across disciplines to bring new perspectives to tough challenges,” says Dr. David Scott, director of Cancer Grand Challenges. “We were thrilled to receive such a strong response from the global research community.”

“The discoveries generated by this cutting-edge research, such as how inflammation controls appetite, could have important implications for treating cancer and the disease of obesity, which has been linked to 14 deadly cancers,” said John Kirwan, PhD, and Executive Director.


About the Pennington Biomedical Research Center

The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the triggers of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia.  The Center conducts basic, clinical, and population research and architected the “Obecity, USA” awareness and advocacy campaign to help solve the obesity epidemic by 2040.  The center is affiliated with Louisiana State University.  The research enterprise at Pennington Biomedical includes over 450 employees within a network of 40 clinics and research laboratories, and 13 highly specialized core service facilities. Its scientists and physician/scientists are supported by research trainees, lab technicians, nurses, dietitians, and other support personnel.  Pennington Biomedical is located in state-of-the-art research facilities on a 222-acre campus in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  For more information, see