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Powering Cancer Research

October 4, 2021

Wistar’s scientific accomplishments could not be achieved without the support of our donors who recognize our research strengths, share our vision and are committed to tackling disease, improving human health and answering the most pressing scientific questions.

Dr. Jerry Francesco’s support is behind the latest developments in the cancer research of Dr. Louise Showe, professor in the Molecular & Cellular Oncogenesis Program of The Wistar Institute Cancer Center.

Dr. Showe is helping advance the development of a blood-based test to detect cancer at an early stage in nonsmokers with no family history of lung cancer as well as people with an increased risk, as early detection makes a difference for this most hard-to-treat cancer. Dr. Francesco learned about Dr. Showe’s work in 2019, and since then has been an essential part of making a lung cancer early diagnosis test a reality.

“The potential of this project to develop a clinical, non-invasive test based on blood gene expression is incredible,” said Showe. “There are a number of possibilities for the project including using this test to diagnose lung cancer in at-risk populations. It could also be used as a follow up test after treatment to monitor cancer recurrence. And further along in development, it could even be a test for screening the general population to help in early detection.”

Dr. Showe collaborates closely with Dr. Andrew Kossenkov, assistant professor in the Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center and member of the Gene Expression & Regulation Program. In 2007, Dr. Kossenkov started as a postdoctoral fellow in the Showe lab where the lung cancer diagnostic project quickly became his main focus for years to come. Dr. Kossenkov is now the scientific director of the Bioinformatics Facility.

“This is a very exciting project of great proportion and importance with the final goal of making a non-invasive lung cancer diagnosis from blood,” said Kossenkov. “Besides great clinical down-the-road impact, it was a technically and logistically complex endeavor, and we had to go through multiple iterations and approaches during the span of the project. That was and continues to be an exciting time and helped me to increase my expertise in the field tremendously.”

Because of donors like Dr. Francesco, Wistar scientists see the fruits of their research move forward in directions that are visionary and out of the box. Philanthropic support also gives researchers a leg up to gather the data needed to apply for large federal grants.

Wistar’s Science Discovery Fund connects philanthropists and scientists together to solve some of the biggest issues in cancer and infectious disease. It is the vehicle through which the donor community can learn about and support the highest-risk, potentially high-reward research taking place. Side by side with researchers, they move discoveries into future diagnostics or drug targets that help scientists translate basic discoveries into next-generation vaccines and medicines.

We spoke to Dr. Francesco about Dr. Showe’s work and his contributions that helped her advance a lung cancer diagnostic for one of the most common causes of cancer deaths in men and women worldwide,1 accounting for 2.1 million new cases and 1.8 million deaths in 2018.2 Twenty percent of those U.S. deaths were nonsmokers who may have smoked less than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime or might have been genetically predisposed or driven by a molecular abnormality or change.

Dr. Francesco wants people to know that Wistar scientists are a highly committed team that possesses a broad range of scientific interests and cutting-edge expertise, with an aim toward practical solutions to disease.

“I think Wistar research is the finest in the country, if not the world,” said Dr. Francesco. “Dr. Showe’s research is of immense interest because of the sad state of affairs in early diagnosis of lung cancer and for the hope of developing simple and readily available tests for this terrible disease. I only wish such tests were available for my beloved wife Lucille who passed from lung cancer. I hope that my philanthropy will help speed the early diagnosis of lung cancer so that eventually such tests can be used by family physicians in their practice. I am happy to play a small role in this project.”


1 World Health Organization Cancer Fact Sheet, 2018
2 Source: Yale Medicine;