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Researchers put red, blue aside to fight lung cancer

by Lauren Williams last modified Nov 24, 2009 01:26 PM

Nearly 100 lung cancer researchers from the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky put distance and team loyalties aside Saturday, Nov. 21, to build collaborations aimed at developing better prevention, detection and treatment techniques for the disease that causes the most cancer deaths in Kentucky and in the United States.

Researchers put red, blue aside to fight lung cancer

Left, Joongho Joh UofL postdoctorial associate at the Brown Cancer Center, and Younsoo Bae UofK assistant professor at the College of Pharmacy, hang posters before the meeting.

"Despite 70 miles and a difference in sports opinions, it's great that we can come together on this," said Mark Evers, director of the Lucille P. Markey Cancer Center at UK, in his opening remarks.

Noting that lung cancer is an enormous problem in Kentucky, Don Miller, director of the James Graham Brown Cancer Center at UofL, pointed out that great minds working together might provide the best chance to eradicate it.

This event represented the first step toward what researchers hope will be fruitful collaborations. They will follow up on the connections made by working together over the next six months to create proposals for funding consideration by the Kentucky Lung Cancer Program. The proposals are due in June and will only be considered if they have a UofL and a UK component.

Participants spent the first half of the four-hour meeting viewing each others' research posters and casually talking with one another about their research interests. Nearly 60 posters were displayed in the lobby of the Clinical Translational Research Building at UofL, alternating between UK and UofL, or "blue, red, blue, red," as Miller put it.

Poster topics included smoking cessation programs in rural areas, an interest of Ellen Hahn of the UK School of Nursing; and smoke-borne fatty acids and their role in cancer growth, which is being investigated by a UofL team that had been led by the late Xueshan Gao, a postdoctoral candidate who recently died of lung cancer, and John Eaton, with whom Gao was working on her graduate studies.

UofL researcher Glenn McGregor already has a potential collaboration with UK researcher Zhigang Wang that may capitalize on an enzyme that is required for DNA mutation to take place in lung cells after the introduction of a cigarette smoke-borne carcinogen.  The researchers aim someday to design a treatment to reduce tumor growth first in mice and then in people, McGregor said.

"Dr. Wang and I have known each other personally and by reputation for years and we share a similar research interest," McGregor said. "It is tremendously exciting, and frankly it just makes good sense, for us to be able to work together on testing our hypothesis and hopefully furthering the field of lung cancer research and treatment."

Kris Damron, program director of the Kentucky Clinical Trials Network, led a concurrent meeting in an adjoining room that focused on clinical trial collaboration.

"Our goal is to make clinical trials that have historically only been available at academic medical centers accessible to patients and physicians throughout the state," Damron said. "Through the affiliations we've established with community cancer centers, we are working to realize this goal. We can keep patients in their communities, with their trusted physicians."

During a working lunch, the group heard from UofL researchers Jason Chesney, Andrew Lane, Brian Clem, Michael Bousamra and John Trent on the topic of metabolomics - the products left behind after cellular processes occur - and their potential application to lung cancer therapy. UK researchers Hahn, Jeffrey Moscow and John Yanelli then presented research on smoking bans in rural communities; the achievements of an existing partnership between the Markey Cancer Center and UK's College of Pharmacy; and vaccine therapy for lung cancer, respectively.

Moscow's presentation detailed the achievements attained by the intra-institution collaboration, which is characterized by twice monthly inter-faculty meetings and a joint seminar series. The partnership already has brought one lung cancer drug into phase II testing and leaders are hopeful that further successes will be forthcoming.

UK's Yanelli already collaborates with Goetz Kloecker of UofL and others on vaccine research.

"The goal of this event was to build collaborations in lung cancer research between the two institutions and cancer centers," Miller said. "Kentucky leads the nation in the incidence of lung cancer, and we feel its burden perhaps more than any other place in the country. It's imperative that we put our best and brightest minds together to find new ways to prevent, detect and treat this devastating disease."

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