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Grants to Fund Research on Early Detection

Studies aim to identify and evaluate biomarkers for lung, colon cancers

November 4, 2010 | DAGNY STUART

The National Cancer Institute has awarded two Early Detection Research Network (EDRN) grants to a group of Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center investigators to support early detection of lung and colon cancers.

Pierre Massion, M.D.

Pierre Massion, M.D.

Pierre Massion, M.D., associate professor of Medicine and Cancer Biology, has been awarded $3 million over five years for the creation of the Vanderbilt Clinical Validation Center.

Daniel Liebler, Ph.D., Ingram Professor of Cancer Research and professor of Biochemistry, Pharmacology and Biomedical Informatics, and David Tabb, Ph.D., assistant professor of Biomedical Informatics and Biochemistry, have been awarded $3 million over five years for the creation of the Vanderbilt Biomarker Development Laboratory (BDL). The BDL will be established within the Jim Ayers Institute for Precancer Detection and Diagnosis, which is dedicated to biomarker development.

Lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer in America, claiming more lives than breast, colon and prostate cancer combined. Lung cancer is typically diagnosed late in the disease process because there is no uniform screening test for early detection.

Daniel Liebler, Ph.D.

Daniel Liebler, Ph.D.

“I am very excited about the opportunity to validate the biomarker candidates that we have developed at Vanderbilt for the past 10 years,” said Massion. “I am convinced if we want to detect lung cancer early we need to use multiple modalities, including identifying the highest-risk patient population, analyzing the data on chest imaging tests and determining which biomarkers have predictive value for early detection. If we can find the patients with the highest risk of disease, we have an opportunity to detect the disease before it is symptomatic and give those patients a chance for a cure.”

Massion and his colleagues will recruit Nashville-area patients at high risk for lung cancer for a screening trial called the “Nashville Early Diagnosis Lung Cancer Project,” and will evaluate a set of biomarkers to determine whether the molecular signatures are helpful in early diagnosis of lung cancer. Biomarkers may be found in blood, urine or tissue samples.

Otis Rickman, D.O., director of Bronchoscopy, and Ronald Walker, M.D., professor of Clinical Radiology and Radiological Sciences, will participate in the lung cancer study.

David Tabb, Ph.D.

David Tabb, Ph.D.

Massion’s group will be collaborating with Liebler and Tabb, who will develop and apply new proteomics methods and informatics tools to identify proteins which may

be useful as biomarkers for lung and colon cancer. This multidisciplinary approach will take advantage of Vanderbilt’s growing expertise in biomarker research in cancer.

“This award was made possible by the infrastructure for biomarker development established by the Ayers Institute,” said Liebler. “We are unique among the EDRN network programs in our ability to identify new biomarker candidate molecules and we are ideally positioned to advance the science of early detection in both colon and lung cancer.”

“We have developed a state-of-the-art pipeline at Vanderbilt for identifying protein modifications,” said Tabb. “Through EDRN, those tools will gain a much broader impact. Our earlier work with the Clinical Proteomics Technology Assessment for Cancer gave me first-hand experience with major collaborations. Being part of EDRN will bring us into an even larger family of researchers.”

The NCI grants are matched by institutional support from Vanderbilt, including funds from the Clinical and Translational Science Award, the Thoracic Oncology Center, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and the Ayers Institute.