October 7, 2005

VUMC investigators home in on lung cancer ‘signatures’

Featured Image

Attending the Clinical Proteomics workshop were: (front row, from left) Ronald Beavis, Ph.D., Beavis Bioinformatics Ltd.; David Friedman, Ph.D., and Amy-Joan Ham, Ph.D., Vanderbilt Mass Spectrometry Research Center (MSRC); Timothy Veenstra, Ph.D., NCI; and Daniel Liebler, Ph.D., director, Vanderbilt Proteomics Laboratory; (back row, from left) David Carbone, M.D., Ph.D., VICC; Martin McIntosh, Ph.D., Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; and Pierre Chaurand, Ph.D., MSRC.
photo by Mary Donaldson

VUMC investigators home in on lung cancer ‘signatures’

Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center have identified specific proteomic “signatures” that potentially may improve the early diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer.

Pierre P. Massion, M.D., assistant professor of Medicine and Cancer Biology, and his colleagues analyzed normal lung and bronchial tissue, as well as different stages of lung tumor development removed from 53 patients during surgical procedures.

A technique called MALDI mass spectrometry was used to generate a profile of the types and amount of proteins contained in each tissue sample.

Reporting in a recent issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, the researchers found the profiles could predict with high accuracy whether the samples were normal tissue, pre-invasive or invasive tumor.

“If these (proteins) can be confirmed as biomarkers, identifying profiles may help us determine which patients will go on to develop lung cancer, and may help us develop drugs to reverse the process,” said David P. Carbone, M.D., Ph.D., Ingram Professor of Cancer Research, and professor of Medicine and Cancer Biology.

Carbone, who participated in the research, announced the finding last week during a Clinical Proteomics workshop sponsored by the Vanderbilt Mass Spectrometry Research Center (MSRC).

MSRC director Richard Caprioli, Ph.D., Stanley Cohen Professor of Biochemistry and professor of Pharmacology and Chemistry, also participated in the research

He noted that the discovery of protein signatures in tissues was achieved first at the Vanderbilt MSRC.

“This technology plays a major role in the lung tumor project,” he said.

Lung cancer is the most lethal cancer — killing nearly 160,000 people in the United States every year. Most patients are not diagnosed until the disease has reached an advanced, incurable stage.

Targeted therapies for cancer are being developed, but they are effective in only a small percentage of patients. Problem is: doctors aren't yet able to predict in advance which patients are likely to respond to the drugs, or which tumors are likely to become invasive.

“Why are we doing so badly? There is no proven screening strategy,” Carbone said. “We don't have a blood test for lung cancer … no proven biomarker for early detection.” Proteomics may provide an answer, he added.

The study's first author was Jamshedur Rahman, Ph.D., senior research specialist in Massion's laboratory. Other contributors were from the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, MSRC, departments of Medicine, Biostatistics, Pathology and Surgery and the University of Colorado Health Science Center in Denver.

Massion's research is supported by a Damon Runyon Research Foundation/Lilly Clinical Investigator Award. The study was funded in part by the National Cancer Institute and the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute.