Lung Cancer Research Dream Team Targets KRAS

Together, The American Cancer Society and Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) funded and created a lung cancer research “Dream Team." Its more than 35 members are experts from the 8 top cancer centers. The project will receive $20 million in funding over a 3-year period. SU2C is a charitable organization that supports cancer research initiatives.

The Dream Team is focused on finding new treatments for one of the most difficult-to-treat lung cancers. The type of non-small cell lung cancer they’re studying has a mutation in a gene called KRAS. Researchers are combining their specialty areas of targeted therapy and immunotherapy to find a more successful treatment. They’re a few years into their work and are leading multiple clinical trials. 

Research and Training Grants in Lung Cancer

The American Cancer Society funds scientists and medical professionals who research cancer or train at medical schools, universities, research institutes, and hospitals throughout the United States. We use a rigorous and independent peer review process to select the most innovative research projects to fund.

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Total Lung Cancer Grants in Effect as of August 1, 2018

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Total Lung Cancer Grant Funding in Effect as of August 1, 2018

Spotlight on Lung Cancer Grantees

Here are some examples of the research areas and scientists the American Cancer Society funds. These lung cancer investigators are working to find answers that will save more lives and improve the quality of life for patients and their families. 

Understanding Needs of Palliative Care in Minority Patients With Advanced Lung Cancer

Grantee: Cardinale Smith, MD, PhD

Institution: Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, New York

Type of Research: Discovery

Term: 7/1/2013 to 6/30/2018

The Challenge: Minority patients with lung cancer often don’t have as much success with treatment. And that can reduce their quality of life.

Palliative care has been shown to improve quality of life and survival in patients with advanced lung cancer. It can be given at any point during a person’s illness, not just at the end of life. Similar programs can also help the nonprofessional caregivers who support people with lung cancer.

Minority patients, though, often underuse palliative care. That likely translates into increased suffering. Their caregivers also often have inadequate support.

The Research: With her grant from the American Cancer Society, Smith is studying how palliative care may help meet the needs lung cancer patients and their caregivers. She’s also studying the barriers to that care.

Aimed at easing suffering and improving quality of life, palliative care includes help with emotional, physical, and spiritual distress; practical issues, like shopping and cleaning; and communication challenges.

The Goal and Long-term Possibilities: Smith’s work will inform the development of a palliative care intervention that is culturally-appropriate. Her goal is to help minority patients with advanced lung cancer and their caregivers. This project has the potential to decrease the disparities in quality of care. 

Attacking Both Cancer and Noncancer Cells in Lung Tumors May Improve Treatment

Grantee: James Kim, MD, PhD

Institution: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas

Type of Research: Study in Mice (preclinical)

Term: 7/1/2016 to 6/30/2020

The Challenge: Most targeted therapies aim directly at the cancer cells in a tumor. But a tumor is also made of inflammatory cells, blood vessels, and connective tissue. All these components, called the stroma, aren’t cancerous. But they can help the tumor grow and thrive.

The Research: With support from a grant from the American Cancer Society, Kim and his research team are studying mice with lung cancer. They’re focused on the signals and interactions between cancer and noncancer cells. Their goal is to develop and test new treatments that target both types of cells in lung tumors.

The Goal and Long-Term Possibilities: This is the first step in developing new drugs for humans that could help people with lung cancer live longer and with a better quality of life. 

Developing More Effective Targeted Therapies for EGFR Mutant Lung Cancers

Grantee: Pasi A. Janne, MD, PhD

Institution: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston

Type of Research: Study in Mice (preclinical) and Study in People (clinical trials)

Term: 7/1/2017 to 6/30/2022

The Challenge: Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mutant lung cancer is hard to treat. Targeted therapies are more effective than traditional chemotherapy. These drugs attack specific aspects of cancer cells that make them different from normal cells.

There’s a problem within just months after targeted treatment starts, though. The drugs stop working in almost all EGFR patients. That means the patients develop drug resistance.

The Research: With his grant from the American Cancer Society, Janne will develop and evaluate combination therapies to extend the lives of people with an EGFR mutant lung cancer. He’ll conduct preclinical studies in mice, and he’ll lead clinical trials with lung cancer patients.

The Goal and Long-term Possibilities: Janne hopes this research will inform treatments for other lung cancer subtypes in addition to EGFR mutant ones. He believes this work could improve the outcome for many lung cancer patients.

Culturally-Tailored, Bilingual Patient Navigation for Prevention and Early Detection of Lung Cancer

Grantee: Sanja Percac-Lima, MD, PhD

Institution: Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston

Type of Research: Population Study

Term: 7/1/2014 to 6/30/2017

The Challenge: By the time most people are diagnosed with lung cancer, it’s already spread. That makes it harder to successfully treat. Cancer is often found late in vulnerable patients like those in Percac-Lima’s study. Her target group is older and largely minority, poorly educated, low income, and underinsured.

A late diagnosis is a main reason that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in men and women. Results from the National Lung Screening Trial showed screening for lung cancer with low-dose computer tomography (LDCT) reduced deaths from lung cancer by 20%. The group studied were adults with a 30 pack-year smoking history. They included current smokers and those who had quit within 15 years. A pack-year is the number of cigarette packs smoked each day multiplied by the number of years a person has smoked.

The Research: With her grant from the American Cancer Society, Percac-Lima is studying whether patient navigators can help smokers ages 55 to 79. Her navigators will be bilingual community outreach workers.

Their mission is to use a culturally-tailored approach to help these smokers in 2 ways. Smoke less. And get an LDCT to screen for lung cancer when appropriate.

Patient navigation has been shown to improve breast, cervical, and colorectal screenings in vulnerable populations. This is the first time the model will be used to help those at risk for lung cancer.

The Goal and Long-term Possibilities: Percac-Lima hopes her study will reveal a way to address disparities in smoking cessation and screening for lung cancer. At the same time, the grant supports her career development with research experience. 

Exploring Synthetic Tumor Suppression for Lung Cancer

Grantee: Jennifer Speth

Institution: The Regents of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor

Type of Research: Study in Mice (preclinical)

Term: 7/1/2017 to 6/30/2019

The Challenge: Lung cancers almost always start in epithelial cells. They’re the cells that line the inside of the airways. In a healthy lung, epithelial cells communicate with immune cells called macrophages. Scientists think cancers start in these cells partly because their communication with macrophages gets disrupted.

Recently, Speth and her lab team discovered this new type of communication in the lung. Macrophages send out a signal by releasing small “packages” (microvesicles). Inside these packages is a tumor suppressor called SOCS3, among other things. Epithelial cells pick up the signal by taking up the released SOCS3. When they do, it prevents inflammation in the lungs.

Speth’s early work shows that lung cancer disrupts the release of SOCS3 packages from macrophages. That leads to too little SOCS3 in epithelial cells. The result is inflammation and the development of tumors in the lungs.

The Research: With support from a grant from the American Cancer Society, Speth’s team will study mice with lung cancer. Their focus is to learn why this disruption in communication happens. They’ll also try synthetic packages with SOCS3 to see if they keep tumors from forming and growing.

Speth’s team will also study SOCS3 levels in tissue samples from lung cancer patients. 

The Goal and Long-Term Possibilities: Speth’s team wants to learn whether identifying a “silent” macrophage could help doctors diagnose cancer or be a target for a new drug.

From Our Researchers

The American Cancer Society employs a staff of full-time researchers who relentlessly pursue the answers that help us better understand cancer, including lung cancer.

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