Wistar Researchers Receive $1 Million CURE Grant to Create Blood Test for Lung Cancer

Wistar Researchers Receive $1 Million CURE Grant to Create Blood Test for Lung Cancer

August 20, 2012

PHILADELPHIA – (August 20, 2012) – There is no simple early test to diagnose lung cancer when it is most easily treatable, but scientists at The Wistar Institute are on track to create one. Today at a ceremony at The University City Science Center, Wistar will receive a $1 million grant from Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Universal Research Enhancement (CURE) Program, to be presented by Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Eli N. Avila, M.D., J.D., M.P.H., FCLM.  

With the CURE funding, Wistar Professor Louise C. Showe, Ph.D., aims to develop the first practical blood test for lung cancer. Lung cancer remains the primary cause of cancer-related death, in part, because there is currently no efficient way to screen people for lung cancer at an early stage available. In recent studies, Showe demonstrated the possibility of detecting early stage non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) by taking a snapshot of gene activity in blood-borne immune cells.

CURE funds will enable Showe and her colleagues to analyze blood samples taken from lung cancer patient volunteers recruited through its partners on the grant at the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center at the Christiana Care Health System and Temple University Health System.  The Helen F. Graham Cancer Center, which sees 94 percent of cancer patients in the state of Delaware, is already recruiting patients toward this end. The goal of their new research is to create a simplified means of collecting and analyzing samples in order to devise a commercially viable test.

“It has become clear to us that we are on the correct path, and we are working to further validate and expand our findings by studying more patient samples so that we have enough evidence to take this concept into clinical trials,” said Showe, a professor in Wistar’s Molecular & Cellular Oncology program and director of Wistar’s genomics and bioinformatics facilities. “Our recent published studies show that with a simple blood draw, we can detect lung cancer, show the effectiveness of cancer surgery, by sampling the same patient’s blood for analysis after surgery and even determine if the cancer may return.”

“This funding will enable us to take that next step and turn biomedical discovery into medical reality,” Showe said.

In a 2009 study published in the journal Cancer Research, Showe and her colleagues first demonstrated the correlation between the presence of NSCLC and gene expression patterns– changes in gene activity – within peripheral mononuclear blood cells (PBCs), white blood cells like leukocytes and lymphocytes important for an immune response. In a 2011 published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research, the researchers further showed that such gene expression patterns change after tumor removal and in many cases could return to normal in patients following successful surgery. They also found a panel of genes that could distinguish between malignant tumors and non-malignant lung nodules, suggesting that such a blood test could also guide treatment decisions and help prevent unnecessary surgeries. A recent publication in PlOS ONE demonstrates the additional possibility to predict patient outcome based on gene expression in the blood.

“Genomics technology, the ability to detect and determine gene activity, has dramatically improved in just the last decade, and the fruits of these approaches a making there way into the clinic” Showe said. “This CURE grant will allow us to now move our initial findings closer to the clinic .”

The CURE program was established in 2001 with funds from the landmark Tobacco Settlement Fund. Thirty percent of CURE funding goes to competitive research grants, such as the one described here, while seventy percent go to so-called formula grants, based on how much an institution receives in research funding from the National Institutes of Health. For more than a decade at 39 institutions across Pennsylvania, the CURE program has supported a broad range of biomedical research focused on cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, infectious diseases, and other health areas.

The Wistar Institute is an international leader in biomedical research with special expertise in cancer research and vaccine development. Founded in 1892 as the first independent nonprofit biomedical research institute in the country, Wistar has long held the prestigious Cancer Center designation from the National Cancer Institute. The Institute works actively to ensure that research advances move from the laboratory to the clinic as quickly as possible. The Wistar Institute: Today’s Discoveries – Tomorrow’s Cures. On the Web at www.wistar.org.

For immediate release: August 20, 2012

Contact: Staci Vernick Goldberg, 215-898-3716, sgoldberg@wistar.org