Two early cancer detection programs boosted by renewed NCI grants

Lab worker looks at sample
Credit: CDC

The National Cancer Institute has renewed funding for two collaborative programs through which UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers are developing new biomarkers for earlier detection and more effective treatment of cancers.

Identifying risky lung nodules

The Boston University-UCLA Lung Cancer Biomarker Characterization Center seeks to resolve a clinical dilemma posed when indeterminate pulmonary nodules of intermediate risk are detected, either incidentally or in screening with chest CT. A small minority of these intermediate-risk nodules will be cancerous, but accurate diagnosis requires invasive tissue sampling, which is costly and potentially risky. New early detection strategies are needed.  

The UCLA team will be led by Dr. William Hsu, Associate Professor in the Department of Radiological Sciences, Bioinformatics, and Bioengineering and Dr. Steve Dubinett, Professor of Medicine, and Director of the UCLA Clinical and Translational Science Institute.

“Minimally invasive approaches that could accurately reclassify intermediate-risk patients to either low- or high-risk categories would reduce uncertainty and transform our approach to diagnosis. Our team is developing and evaluating minimally invasive biomarkers and advanced imaging analysis for  a more accurate diagnosis,” said Dr. Steve Dubinett.  

The NCI, part of the National Institutes of Health, announced renewed funding of more than  $2.8M over the next five years. Drs. Hsu and Dubinett will be joined in leading this Early Detection Research Network program by their Boston University collaborators, Drs. Marc Lenburg and Jennifer Beane.

Identifying aggressive prostate cancers

The Virginia-UCLA-Toronto Biomarker Characterization Center targets the most pressing problem in prostate cancer: early identification of men with aggressive prostate cancer who will benefit from active treatment. Most prostate cancers are relatively indolent when first diagnosed, but a subset are highly aggressive. Distinguishing indolent from aggressive cancer has the potential to both reduce over-treatment and increase cure rates.

“We’re focused on analyzing the urine of patients with prostate cancer to non-invasively detect specific proteins that characterize aggressive prostate cancers,” said Paul Boutros, director of the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Cancer Data Science program and a professor in the departments of human genetics and urology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Boutros said the team’s goal is to develop clinically robust assays incorporating the new biomarkers, providing early identification of men at risk for prostate cancer grade progression and improved risk stratification for them.

The NCI renewed funding in the amount of $3.6M over the next five years. Dr. Boutros will be joined in leading this Early Detection Research program by long-term collaborators O. John Semmes at Eastern Virginia Medical School and Thomas Kislinger at the University of Toronto.