Renowned UCLA physician-scientist awarded collaborative grant to develop innovative technologies to detect and prevent lung cancer

$5 million grant will help improve diagnosis and screening of the disease at its earliest stages
Steven Dubinett

UCLA cancer researcher Dr. Steven Dubinett will co-lead a $5 million collaborative grant from Stand Up to Cancer to develop new tools to diagnose lung cancer and protect against recurrence in people successfully treated for the disease. By developing new ways to detect cancer or pre-cancerous activity at its earliest stages, the research can lead to improved technologies to stop growth of the disease and potentially save countless lives.

Stand Up to Cancer, under its SU2C Cancer Interception initiative, is joined by the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research, LUNGevity and the American Lung Association and its LUNG FORCE initiative in funding four research teams, two each on cancers of the lung and pancreas. Each of the four collaborations will carry out the research using a radical new approach of “interception” of cancers at the earliest possible juncture, when they can be more successfully treated.

The announcement of the initiative was made at the AACR-NCI-EORTC International Conference on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics on Thursday, October 26 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is the scientific partner of Stand Up to Cancer.

As one of four teams awarded by SU2C, Dubinett, the director of the lung cancer research program at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, and molecular and medical pharmacology at the David Geffen School of Medicine, will co-lead the research team with Dr. Avrum Spira, professor of medicine, pathology and bioinformatics, and director of the Boston University-Boston Medical Center Cancer Center. In addition to UCLA and Boston University, the team includes investigators from Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, and the Francis Crick Institute, London.

The scientists will lead the research project entitled, “SU2C-LUNGevity-American Lung Association Lung Cancer Interception Dream Team: Intercept Lung Cancer through Immune, Imaging, and Molecular Evaluation (InTIME).”

Dubinett and Spira’s Dream Team will develop diagnostic tools, such as nasal swabs, blood tests, and radiological imaging, to confirm whether lung abnormalities found on chest imaging are benign lung disease or lung cancer. To protect against recurrence of disease that has already been successfully treated, new blood tests will help identify patients at the earliest stages of recurrence, enabling timely interventions such as immunotherapy. To facilitate these clinical interventions the researchers will study the detailed mechanisms whereby normal lung cells turn into lung cancer cells.

 “We are very grateful to receive this generous commitment from Stand Up to Cancer, LUNGevity, and the American Lung Association,” said Dubinett. “One of the reasons lung cancer is so deadly is because diagnosis of the disease occurs in later stages, when it is far harder to treat. By intercepting the disease at its very earliest stages, we can have a profound impact on the evaluation and prevention of lung cancer, and potentially improve the lives of many people at high risk for the disease.”

Lung cancer is by far the leading cancer killer in the United States, and the National Cancer Institute estimates nearly 156,000 people in the United States will die from the disease this year alone. More than 222,000 cases are expected to be diagnosed this year, and the five-year survival rate is 18 percent.

The lung and pancreas Interception Dream Teams bring to 22 the number of Dream Teams launched by SU2C since the first Dream Teams were awarded in 2009. The new Translational Teams bring the number in that category to nine.