Gastrointestinal Cancer

Program Leadership

James Abbruzzese, MD
Brian Czito, MD


Translational research transforms the findings of basic (laboratory) research more quickly and efficiently into medical practice. The Gastrointestinal Cancer Research Program undertakes translational research to improve the outcome of patients with GI cancers.

These cancers, including colorectal, pancreatic, and hepatocellular carcinoma, are extremely challenging to treat and the mortality rates (death rate) for these cancers are quite high, especially when the cancer is diagnosed late and has metastasized (spread from one part of the body to another).

Widespread screening to detect colorectal cancer early has improved survival as has more effective medical treatments for patients. Diagnosis at an advanced stage carries a very poor prognosis -- most patients with colorectal cancer that has spread to other sites in the body (metastatic) will die from the cancer, most within two years.

Pancreatic cancer is among the deadliest of cancers, because early detection is quite rare and few effective treatments exist. A recently approved drug (erlotinib) increased average survival in pancreatic cancer patients by just 10 days.

Liver cancer is occurring in more people and is the only cancer whose death rate is increasing for both men and women in the United States. The risk factors for it are fairly well known: hepatitis B virus infection can lead directly to it, while hepatitis C infection causes cirrhosis first which can then lead to cancer. However, which hepatitis-infected patients are at greatest risk is unknown, thus screening guidelines to detect this type of cancer early are not as useful as they might be.

Patients with GI cancers will benefit from refined approaches of risk assessment, advances to improve responses to existing treatments, and development of more effective treatments. GI cancers, particularly colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, and liver cancer, are significant health hazards which deserve strong translational research with significant potential to improve diagnosis, prevention and treatment—work enabled by Duke investigators.

Research Focus Areas

The Gastrointestinal Cancer Research Program goals are to advance translational research to bring about new treatments, better methods to prevent or lessen treatment side effects, to improve treatment effectiveness, and to better match screening, disease monitoring, and/or treatment choices to individual genetic or biological markers for our patients.

We seek to:

  • Translate Duke’s basic science (laboratory) discoveries into medical treatments for patients and to explore the mechanisms behind clinically observed phenomena in GI cancer(s)

  • Build on Duke’s biomarker (substances found in the blood or tissues) and immunotherapy (treatment to stimulate or restore the immune system) discoveries to guide and improve patient treatments in GI cancer(s)

  • Provide the framework to nurture translational research across a range of basic science and clinical needs in areas such as diagnosis, prevention, and quality of life by engaging young faculty members through funding and mentoring.

Clinical Trials

Additional Contacts

Wanda Honeycutt, Assistant Research Practice Manager
Phone: 919.681.9455

Make An Appointment

To make an appointment, please call 888.275.3853. For more information on gastrointestinal cancer care at Duke Health, visit:

To find a doctor, visit Find A Specialist.