Emory Report
March 27, 2006
Volume 58, Number 24



Emory Report homepage  

March 27 , 2006
Winship nabs $7.5M national grant for cancer research

BY Vincent Dollard

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has awarded a $7.5 million grant, one of the largest lung cancer research grants in the country, to Winship Cancer Institute, with additional support coming from the Georgia Cancer Coalition, Georgia’s innovative public/private cancer research partnership.

The grant is built around four scientific projects supported by three core laboratory facilities, and the grant team comprises some 40 researchers, clinicians, fellows and technicians from 10 departments throughout Woodruff Health Sciences Center. The project’s primary goal is to enhance therapeutic strategies for lung cancer.

“Lung cancer is one of the most devastating public health issues we face in Georgia today,” said Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue. “Our ability to develop groundbreaking research to advance the standard of care and develop more effective prevention and treatment is vital.”

The NCI provides these grants, called PO-1 grants, only to institutions with broad-based, multidisciplinary and collaborative research capabilities. Winship Associate Director Fadlo Khuri is director and co-principal investigator on the grant. Haian Fu, associate professor of pharmacology, also is co-principal investigator. Winship’s P0-1 grant is among the nation’s 12 largest currently funded lung cancer grants.

“Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in men and women, both in the United States and worldwide,” Khuri said. “Despite important advances in understanding the biology of lung cancer and the introduction of several novel chemotherapy agents, five-year survival for this disease remains at a dismal 15 percent.”

Khuri said the project aims to improve lung cancer therapy by better understanding how lung cancer cells communicate. Researchers will study “cell signaling pathways” and how several drugs interfere with them, so that cancer cells cannot communicate and reproduce.

“By utilizing data from a large international clinical trial that studied the most effective treatment sequence of chemotherapy and surgery among lung cancer patients, we hope to develop better, more personalized therapies,” Fu said. “We also hope to find new drugs that only target cancer cells and their altered signaling pathways, leaving healthy cells alone.”

“This is a vitally important step for lung cancer research in Georgia and in the United States,” said Michael Johns, executive vice president for health affairs. “This grant also sends a clear signal that collaboration among research and clinical faculty throughout the Emory system and beyond is working, and it is working to advance some of the most pressing medical issues of our time.”

According to the American Cancer Society’s recently published Cancer Facts and Figures, Georgia will witness 4,860 new cases of lung cancer in 2006, and an estimated 4,530 Georgians will die of lung cancer this year. Nationally, new cases of lung and other respiratory organ cancers for both men and women are estimated to be 176,860.

“We are proud to support this exciting and innovative program,” said Bill Todd, president of the Georgia Cancer Coalition. “We salute [the researchers’] hard work, vision and tenacity in bringing this important grant to Georgia.”

In addition to Khuri, five other researchers involved in the PO-1 have received grant support from the Georgia Cancer Coalition as Distinguished Cancer Clinicians and Scholars. They are Otis Brawley, associate director at Winship; Wei Zhou, assistant professor; Shi-Yong Sun, assistant professor; Dong Shin, professor; and Leland Chung, professor. Shin and Chung have served as advisers to the PO-1 project.

The grant consists of four collaborative and supporting projects: Project One focuses on non-small cell lung cancer and a specific cell signaling pathway that plays an important role in cell proliferation. Project Two focuses on a specific gene, LKB1, in which inherited mutations indicate a predisposition to certain cancers, including lung.

Project Three studies the anticancer effectiveness of farnesyl transferase inhibitors and how they synergize with existing chemotherapies such as Taxol and Taxotere. Project Four, as one component of the integrated program project, will test the hypothesis that certain proteins support the survival of lung cancer cells by suppressing the normal cell-death functions of similar proteins.

“Dr. Khuri, Dr. Fu and the entire team of researchers and clinicians who worked so hard to develop this exceptional grant are to be commended,” said medical Dean Tom Lawley. “This grant represents a sharpened focus on a devastating disease. It is this kind of work that will truly make a difference for lung cancer patients and their loved ones.”