Early lung-cancer detection for nonsmokers

Samir Hanash will head multi-institutional effort to find biomarkers for early detection of lung cancer in people who have never smoked
Dr. Samir Hanash
Dr. Samir Hanash of the Public Health Sciences Division is the team leader for Canary Foundation-funded lung-cancer projects. Photo by Gordon Todd

Government and private sector cancer scientists have 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 and ex-smokers.

The Canary Foundation, a nonprofit organization that funds research in early cancer detection, and the National Cancer Institute are sponsoring this multi-institutional effort. NCI's Early Detection Research Network (EDRN) and the Canary Foundation will each provide initial funding of $1 million. Dr. Samir Hanash of the Center's Public Health Sciences Division is the team leader for Canary Foundation-funded lung-cancer projects. He also serves as principal investigator for two of the nine studies. Dr. Muneesh Tewari of the Human Biology Division will also lead a study.

Research has shown that lung cancer in people who have never smoked differs in many ways from the disease in smokers. For example, nonsmokers 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," Hanash said. "This inability to recognize nonsmokers 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, making lung cancer in never-smokers the seventh most common cause of cancer deaths worldwide, even before cancers of the cervix, pancreas and prostate.

Using lung cancer cell lines, tissue and blood specimens, researchers at five of the nation's leading research institutions and in Vancouver, B.C., 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, the 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.

[Adapted from a news release from the National Cancer Institute.]

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