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New early detection studies of lung cancer in non-smokers launched today

Government and private sector cancer scientists today launched a research partnership to find biomarkers for lung cancer that develops in people who have never smoked. The research studies are designed to create a better understanding of the biology of lung cancer and to develop a test to detect early-stage lung cancer in lifetime nonsmokers.

The Canary Foundation, a nonprofit organization that funds research in early cancer detection, and the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, are sponsoring this multi-institutional effort. NCI's Early Detection Research Network (EDRN) and the Canary Foundation will provide initial funding of $1 million each.

Research has shown that lung cancer in people who have never smoked differs in many ways from the disease in smokers. For example, non-smokers with lung cancer have different tumor tissue structure, gene mutations, and demographic profiles than smokers with lung cancer. "Efforts to study the disease in never-smokers have been limited, and no screening tests or approaches for identifying individuals at increased risk are available today," said Samir Hanash, M.D., Ph.D., of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, and team leader for Canary Foundation-funded projects. "This inability to recognize non-smokers who are at risk often leads to delays in diagnosis and results in cancer identification at an advanced stage, and this problem is what we're tackling with this new study."

Global estimates suggest that as many as 25 percent of all lung cancers worldwide 15 percent of those in men and 50 percent of those in women are not attributable to smoking. "If you consider lung cancer in never smokers as a separate category, it ranks as the seventh most common cause of cancer deaths worldwide, even before cancers of the cervix, pancreas and prostate," commented Adi Gazdar, M.B.B.S., of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, and team leader for the NCI-funded studies.

Using lung cancer cell lines, tissue, and blood specimens, researchers at five of the nation's leading research institutions will undertake a coordinated approach to biomarker discovery using their expertise to study the same sets of specimens by different methods. The researchers will deposit the data in a single repository, and integrate the results to find the most promising biomarkers. Because of this design, this project will also serve as a pilot study to demonstrate the feasibility of the approach and the ability to integrate the data across different platforms. If it is successful, the researchers plan to open the project to additional collaborators from the EDRN.

The NCI-EDRN will fund most of the tumor studies, and the Canary Foundation will provide funding for the cell culture studies.

Projects funded by NCI include:

  • Protein biomarker discovery: In-Depth Proteomic Analysis of Plasmas from Subjects with Lung Cancer Arising in Current, and Never Smokers (Principal Investigator (PI): Hanash)
  • Genome analysis: Mining the Genome and Transcriptome in Lung Cancer from Never Smokers (PI: Gazdar)
  • Cellular alterations: Mitochondrial Mutations in Lung Cancer from Never Smokers (PI: David Sidransky, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Md.)
  • Genome analysis: Genomic Studies of Lung Cancer Arising in Current, and Never Smokers (PIs: Wan Lam and Stephen Lam, British Columbia Cancer Agency, Vancouver, British Columbia)

Projects funded by the Canary Foundation include:

  • Protein biomarker discovery: Proteomic Analysis of Lung Cancer Cell Lines (PI: Hanash)
  • Tumor biomarker discovery: Biomarker Discovery for Lung Cancer in Never Smokers (PI: Gazdar)
  • Genome analysis: Genomic Studies of Lung Cancer Cell Lines from Lung Cancers Arising in Current, and Never Smokers (PIs: Lam and Lam)
  • RNA analysis: MicroRNA Profiles of a Lung Cancer Cell Line Panel (PI: Muneesh Tewari, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, Seattle, Wash.)
  • Genome analysis: Genome-Wide DNA Methylation Profiling of Lung Adenocarcinomas from Never Smokers and Current Smokers (PI: Ite Laird-Offringa, University of Southern California, Los Angeles)

"This project is extremely important, both in its approach toward lung cancer detection and in its structure as a multi-institutional, transdisciplinary project funded through a public-private partnership," said John E. Niederhuber, M.D., director of the National Cancer Institute. "Identification of biomarkers, which tell us who is at risk for cancer and help diagnose cancer at the earliest possible stages, is an important priority in cancer prevention research and a key component in efforts to reduce the burden of this disease."


Contact: NCI Office of Media Relations
NIH/National Cancer Institute

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