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David Johnson, M.D., left, and David Carbone, M.D., Ph.D., at the Preston Research Building. (photo by Neil Brake)

SPORE renewal sparks lung cancer research

BY: DAGNY STUART

10/26/2007 - Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center has received renewed funding for its Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) in lung cancer.

The Vanderbilt-Ingram Lung SPORE, which was first funded in 2001, will receive $2.3 million a year for another five years from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). It is one of a handful of cancer centers in the country to receive SPORE grants and is matched by significant financial support from VUMC.

“The founding principal of a SPORE is to award funding to an institution that has a critical mass of investigators to support translational research at the interface of basic and clinical research,” said David Carbone, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Medicine and Cancer Biology and principal investigator for the Lung SPORE. “This renewal enables us to continue our investigation of specific molecular cancer signatures as well as testing of clinical protocols which could make a difference in treatment and survival for lung cancer patients.”

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States for both men and women. The NCI estimates 213,380 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer in 2007 and 160,390 will die from the disease.

Smoking is well-known as the major cause of lung cancer and even a short stint of smoking in high school or college can result in a lung cancer diagnosis years or even decades later.

“There's a feeling it's a self-inflicted cancer, which is incredibly unfair since cigarettes are legal and highly addictive, and especially unfair to the nearly 20,000 people per year who take care of themselves, never smoke and get lung cancer anyway,” explained Carbone. “Research for this disease has historically been under-funded relative to other cancer types.”

That's why he and the other SPORE researchers believe the renewal of this grant is so important.

“Dr. Carbone has long been recognized for his translational approach to cancer research and is a leader in the Ccenter's efforts to bring research findings from the lab to patient care,” said Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., interim director of Vanderbilt-Ingram. “We are grateful that we have been recognized by the NCI for our innovative and productive interdisciplinary research efforts in lung cancer.”

In the Lung SPORE there are five discrete projects to target the mechanisms that cause lung cancer as well as potential treatment methodologies. Better treatments are desperately needed because death rates are stubbornly high in lung cancer. Only about 15 percent of patients diagnosed with the malignancy are still alive after five years.

“The Lung Cancer SPORE provides us with the critical resources needed to pursue important basic and clinical research projects,” said David Johnson, M.D., director of the Division of Hematology/Oncology and deputy director of Vanderbilt-Ingram. Johnson and Jason Morrow, M.D., director of the Center for Pharmacology and Drug Toxicity, co-direct a SPORE project focused on the role of prostaglandins in lung cancer pathogenesis and treatment.

In addition to research that could result in clinical practice changes, the SPORE also includes career development awards for young investigators.

“This renewal will fuel the expansion of the Cancer Center's extraordinary translational research programs, as well as its scientific reputation which continues to expand rapidly, even in the face of unprecedented challenges with the availability of federal research dollars,” said Jeffrey Balser, M.D., Ph.D., associate vice-chancellor for Research.

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