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Researchers Aim to Develop Blood Test for Lung Cancer

Gene activity in blood-borne immune cells may indicate early-stage NSCLC (Aug. 20)

There is no simple test to diagnose lung cancer early, when it is most easily treatable, but scientists at The Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, Pa., are working to create one. On August 20, Wistar announced that it had received a $1 million grant from Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Universal Research Enhancement (CURE) Program to fund the research.

In recent studies, Wistar professor Louise C. Showe, PhD demonstrated the possibility of detecting early-stage non–small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) by taking a snapshot of gene activity in blood-borne immune cells.

The CURE funds will enable Dr. Showe and her colleagues to analyze blood samples from lung cancer patients. The goal of their research is to create a simplified means of collecting and analyzing samples in order to devise a commercially viable test.

In a study published in 2009 in Cancer Research, Dr. Showe and coworkers first demonstrated the correlation between the presence of NSCLC and changes in gene activity within peripheral mononuclear blood cells (PBCs). PBCs are white blood cells, such as leukocytes and lymphocytes, that are important for an immune response.

In another article published in 2011 in Clinical Cancer Research, the investigators further showed that such gene expression patterns change after tumor removal and in many cases can return to normal in patients after successful surgery. They also found a panel of genes that could distinguish between malignant tumors and nonmalignant lung nodules, suggesting that such a blood test could also guide treatment decisions and help prevent unnecessary surgeries.

A recent publication in PLoS ONE demonstrates the additional possibility that patient outcome may be predicted based on gene expression in the blood.

For more information, visit the Wistar Institute Web site.

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