Public Release: 

BU researcher leads team in 'cancer interception' project

Boston University School of Medicine

(Boston) -- Developing diagnostic tools to "intercept" lung cancer at its earliest stage is the goal of a research team led by Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), along with colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Using innovative approaches such as nasal swabs, blood tests and radiological imaging, scientists look to confirm whether lung abnormalities found on chest imaging are benign lung disease.

In order to protect against recurrence of disease that has already been successfully treated, the researchers are also exploring how new blood tests can help identify patients at the earliest stages of recurrence, thus enabling timely and effective intervention with therapies such as those that boost the immune system.

Avrum Spira, MD, professor of medicine, pathology and bioinformatics at BUSM and director of the Boston University-Boston Medical Center (BU-BMC) Cancer Center, leads the team, and Steven Dubinett, MD, associate vice chancellor for research at UCLA and director of the lung cancer research program at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, is the co-leader."We plan to develop technology that can, in a very sensitive way, pick up the small amount of DNA that might be present in the blood of someone who's harboring a lung cancer deep within their lung tissue - a noninvasive way of measuring a person's risk of having lung cancer," explained Spira.

"One of the reasons lung cancer is so deadly is because diagnosis of the disease occurs in later stages, when it is far harder to treat. By intercepting the disease at its very earliest stages, we can have a profound impact on the evaluation and prevention of lung cancer, and potentially improve the lives of many people at high risk for the disease," Dubinett said.

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Other participants in the project are: Julie Brahmner, MD, Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins; Sanjiv "Sam" Gambhir, MD, PhD, Stanford University; Matthew Meyerson, MD, PhD; Harvard University and Dana-Farber Cancer Center; Charles Swanton, MBBS; Francis Crick Institute and Cancer Research UK; Kim Norris, Founder, Lung Cancer Foundation of America; Marcia Horn; President and CEO, International Cancer Advisory Network (ICAN).

Funding for this research is being provided by Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research, LUNGevity, and the American Lung Association. The BUSM/UCLA group is one of four teams of researchers finding ways to attack cancers of the lung and pancreas using a radical new approach of "interception" of cancers at very early stages, when they can be more successfully treated. Combined, the teams received $16.6 million in funding.

The other teams are:

  • SU2C-Lustgarten Foundation Pancreatic Cancer Interception Dream Team: Intercepting Pancreatic Cancer in High-Risk Cohorts. Funding: $7 million. Leader: Anirban Maitra, MBBS, scientific director of the Sheikh Ahmed Pancreatic Cancer Research Center, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston. Co-leaders: Michael G. Goggins, MD, professor of pathology, medicine and oncology, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore; and Scott M. Lippman, MD, director of Moores Cancer Center, University of California San Diego Health.

  • SU2C-Lustgarten Foundation Pancreatic Cancer Interception Translational Research Team: Developing Novel Approaches to Treat and Evaluate Early Pancreatic Cancer. Funding: $2.6 million. Leader: David P. Ryan, MD, chief of the division of hematology and oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, Boston. Co-leader: Alec Kimmelman, MD, PhD, chair of radiation oncology at Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone.

  • SU2C-LUNGevity-American Lung Association Lung Cancer Interception Translational Research Team: Blood-based Early Interception of Lung Cancer. Funding: $2 million. Leader: Lecia V. Sequist, MD, MPH, associate professor of medicine, and director of the Center for Innovation in Early Cancer Detection (CIECD) at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center. Co-leader: Maximilian Diehn, MD, PhD, assistant professor of radiation oncology, Stanford University School of Medicine.

The BUSM-UCLA led Lung Cancer Interception Dream Team is also receiving research support and funding from Janssen Research & Development, LLC to enable the early detection and interception of lung cancers. Janssen is contributing its immunosciences expertise to provide greater insights into how the immune system responds to pre-cancerous lesions in the lung, which may lead to future innovative therapies.

Lung cancer is by far the leading cancer killer in the United States, with nearly 156,000 deaths expected in 2017, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). More than 222,000 cases are expected to be diagnosed this year. The five-year survival rate is estimated to be 18 percent.

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