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David Carbone, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues are studying genetic variations among minorities with lung cancer. (photo by Dean Dixon)

Study to focus on lung cancer among minorities

BY: DAGNY STUART

11/06/2009 - David Carbone, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Medicine, Cell and Developmental Biology and Cancer Biology, has been awarded nearly $1 million in federal stimulus funds to study polymorphisms or genetic variations among minorities with non-small cell lung cancer.

Carbone and his colleagues plan to use the two-year grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to focus on African-Americans diagnosed with lung cancer.

“We know that African-Americans have a significantly greater risk of developing lung cancer than whites, Hispanics or Japanese Americans,” said Carbone. “Lung cancer mortality rates also are higher for African-American males than any other ethnic group.

“We are searching for genetic mutations that may explain higher rates of disease as well as differences in how some groups of patients respond to treatment. This research grant will help us identify those genetic variables and try to determine how they affect the disease process and assist us in improving treatment for this group of patients.”

Carbone will serve as principal investigator for the Challenge Grant from the National Institutes of Health. The NIH has allocated $200 million to the Challenge Grants, which are designed to “jumpstart” projects in biomedical and behavioral research. More than 21,000 applications have been submitted and only 3 percent are expected to be funded.

Velmalia Matthews-Smith, M.D., the first official Vanderbilt University-Meharry Medical College fellow in the Division of Oncology, helped spearhead the application. She joins Steven Wolff, M.D., and Billy Ray Ballard, D.D.S., M.D., — both of Meharry — and several VICC researchers as co-investigators.

The joint investigation is made possible through the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance.

A supplemental grant of more than $700,000 has also been awarded to the Lung Strategic Partnering to Evaluate Cancer Signatures (SPECS) grant that Carbone leads at VICC.

The grant will be used by Carbone and Pierre Massion, M.D., associate professor of Medicine and Cancer Biology, to measure more than 100 proteins in the blood of cancer patients and non-cancer patients to determine if they might be useful as molecular biomarkers to diagnose lung cancer.

These biomarkers may allow the development of a simple blood test that would help clinicians determine whether a patient had lung cancer or was at high risk of developing lung cancer.

The ability to identify molecular features of patients who develop lung cancer and the tumors themselves may enable physicians to identify patients at high risk for developing lung cancer, and match the patient with the appropriate treatment.

This emphasis on personalized medicine is a central theme of the lung cancer program, and a hallmark of VICC's cancer research efforts.

“We already are testing breast cancer patients for genetic markers and matching them with the proper treatments,” said David Johnson, M.D., deputy director of Vanderbilt-Ingram.

“We need to find similarly important biomarkers in lung cancer that will help us find the disease at an earlier stage and develop better treatment options.”

The NCI grants totaling $1.7 million are made possible by the federal government's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

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