December 2, 2005

On the trail of lung cancer’s ‘signature’

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David Carbone, M.D., Ph.D.

On the trail of lung cancer’s ‘signature’

The Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center is leading a multi-institutional effort supported by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to identify “molecular signatures” of lung cancer.

By evaluating changes in the pattern or “profile” of proteins expressed by lung tumors, as well as genetic mutations and other indicators, the researchers hope to find ways to diagnose lung cancer earlier and treat it more effectively.

“There is no single answer to lung cancer,” said David Carbone, M.D., Ph.D., Harold L. Moses Professor of Cancer Research at Vanderbilt. “We want to take a synergistic approach where everyone benefits.”

Carbone, who directs an NCI-supported Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) in lung cancer at Vanderbilt, is principal investigator of the lung cancer grant, part of the NCI's Strategic Partnering to Evaluate Cancer Signatures (SPECS) program.

The $7 million, five-year lung cancer award supports a collaboration of 11 medical centers and two large cancer clinical trial groups to evaluate different technologies for improving diagnosis and monitoring response to therapy.

The Vanderbilt researchers, for example, are using a mass spectrometry technique to predict lymph node involvement and response of lung tumors to erlotinib (Tarceva) and standard chemotherapy, based on changes in the pattern or “profile” of proteins expressed by the tumors.

The consortium includes six lung cancer SPOREs in addition to Vanderbilt's: UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center; the University of Colorado Cancer Center in Denver; Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute; the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston; and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Also involved are the University of California, Davis; the University of Southern California; the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor; Duke University; the Southwest Oncology Group, a cancer clinical trials organization involving nearly 4,000 physicians in the United States and Canada; and the Spanish Lung Cancer Group.

The SPECS program, announced this week by the NCI, funds multi-center efforts to identify molecular signatures for six kinds of cancer.

The other SPECS grants went to groups led by Children's Hospital Los Angeles (childhood sarcomas); University of California, Irvine (prostate cancer); University of Nebraska Medical Center (non-Hodgkin's lymphoma); University of New Mexico (adult acute lymphocytic leukemia); and Washington University in St. Louis (breast cancer).

For more information about SPECS and NCI's Cancer Diagnosis Program, visit: