News Release: Emory Healthcare , Research , Winship Cancer Institute

Aug. 5,  2010

Department of Defense Awards Grant for Lung Cancer Research

The US Department of Defense Lung Cancer Research Program has given a Clinical Fellow Research Award to Arif Ali, MD, a resident physician at Emory's Winship Cancer Institute and the Department of Radiation Oncology in Emory School of Medicine. The award includes a grant of $216,000, which will fund Ali's research into accurately determining response to non-small cell lung cancer therapy while still in the early phases of treatment.

According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer (both small cell and non-small cell) is the leading cause of cancer deaths for both men and women in the United States. More people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.

"The current strategy to treat early, curable non-small cell lung cancer includes surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy," says Dr. Ali. "With each of these options, it is often months before we are able to determine whether the treatment worked or not. As part of our project, we want to develop a new radiology imaging technology that will let doctors and patients know within a few days of starting a given treatment if that treatment is likely to work."

This project focuses on response to treatment by imaging a specific protein, GRP78, at the cell surface. This protein has been shown to respond to radiation and chemotherapy in breast cancer and certain brain tumors. GRP78 also is found in early stage lung cancer, and researchers will investigate how to use the response of this protein to help determine the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

The research team will use a non-invasive lung cancer imaging system to assess a tumor's response based on detection of GRP78's sensitivity and reaction to chemotherapy or radiation therapy. This protein could then serve as an early indicator of the effectiveness of the therapy, giving physicians and patients the ability to make decisions at an early stage of treatment.

The goal of this research is to provide an effective tool for assessing how well lung cancer treatment is working," says Ali. "If we can determine that the current treatment is not likely to work, then doctors and patients can quickly switch to another type of treatment before the cancer has had time to grow or spread. This would provide more options to patients diagnosed with early stage non-small cell lung cancer."

The project team co-mentors are Fadlo Khuri, MD, chairman of the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology and deputy director of the Winship Cancer Institute, and Roberto Diaz, MD, PhD, assistant professor in Emory's Department of Radiation Oncology. Project collaborators include Mark Goodman, PhD, professor of radiology and director of the Positron Emission Tomography core facility, and Johann Brandes, MD, PhD, assistant professor of hematology and medical oncology.

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