Valley Hospital Researchers Leverage Their Success in Discovering a Pancreatic Cancer Biomarker to Identify a Better Way to Screen for Lung Cancer
The Valley Hospital is pleased to announce that two of its oncologists and a research scientist are helping pave the way to an easier, more accurate, less invasive way to screen for the most common form of lung cancer. Lung cancer is the most common cancer in men worldwide and the number one cancer killer in the United States.
Ganepola A. P. Ganepola, M.D., FACS, medical director of research for Valley’s Okonite Research Center and director of Valley’s Center for Cancer Research and Genomic Medicine; Robert J. Korst, M.D., FACS, FCCP, medical director of Valley’s Blumenthal Cancer Center; and David H. Chang, Ph.D., research scientist at the Center for Cancer Research and Genomic Medicine in Paramus, NJ, collaborated with the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia on the study, led by their scientist Qihong Huang, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the Tumor Microenvironment and Metastasis Program.
The team discovered a protein that circulates in the blood that appears to be more accurate than the current method of low-dose CT scans for detecting non-small cell lung cancer. The research built on the success of a study Dr. Ganepola led previously that discovered a biomarker for pancreatic cancer. Valley began biomarker research approximately six years ago “before the word biomarker was common,” he said. “Our research on pancreatic cancer made a significant contribution to medical research and with Wistar’s support, we used the exact same approach for the lung cancer study.”
"Without the samples provided by Valley Hospital, this study would have been impossible to complete," said Dr. Huang. "They are excellent collaborators and we're looking forward to continuing this partnership in our next trial, which we hope will confirm the important findings we made in this initial pilot study."
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends an annual screening for patients 55 to 80 years old with a history of smoking and who are at high risk for developing lung cancer. Confirming the accuracy of the protein, AKAP4, in a broader, more robust study could result in developing a simple blood test for annual screenings, rather than the less accurate, more expensive CT scan, which exposes patients to radiation.
“Cancer is a dreadful disease which kills more than half of patients,” said Dr. Ganepola. “The other half survives for only one reason – if the disease is detected early enough to be eradicated completely. This is only possible if you have a test that can detect cancer non-invasively early enough so patients can benefit from early, rather than late-stage treatment. If the tumors are detected early enough, the survival rate can dramatically improve from less than 5 percent to over 55 percent in lung and pancreatic cancers."
The achievements in cancer studies stem from Valley’s superior research facilities and the caliber of its staff, the practicing oncology surgeon said. “Our advanced capabilities can meet the high demand cancer research required to care for cancer patients at all levels. Our early research on metastatic colon cancer is considered among the best in the world and we maintain that lead today.”
Dr. Ganepola is excited about the future of genetic research and protein analysis. “Cancer is basically a genetic disease, but not usually inherited from birth. Ninety percent of cancers are acquired as mutations of the genome, consisting of DNA and RNA molecules. If you look at DNA-RNA-protein, the axis of all biological growth, protein is very important and will lead as a cancer biomarker in the next five to 10 years as technology advances.”
The Valley Hospital and The Wistar Institute team plan to validate their lung cancer research results in a larger study involving more than 800 blood samples from various hospitals. “Our partnership with Wistar is a good example of collaborative research in which two institutions work together for the good of patients,” Dr. Ganepola said.