Research progress report: A blood test for lung cancer

Published on November 24, 2014

Updated on January 26, 2021

Dr. Sharon Pine shares her progress as she investigates biomarkers for lung cancer prevention and early detection.

Lung cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer. An estimated 159,260 Americans are expected to die from lung cancer in 2014, accounting for about 27% of all cancer deaths.

In support of Lung Cancer Awareness Month, we asked Foundation research awardee Sharon Pine, Ph.D., of Rutgers University, to give us an update on her study of biomarkers for early detection of lung cancer.

Her project investigates whether a non-invasive blood test will predict who is at increased risk of developing lung cancer. In order to accomplish this, her team will examine specific mitochondrial DNA mutations. These mutations can identify people who are more sensitive than others to many types of cancer-causing agents, including carcinogens, smoking, repeated infections and chronic stress.

1. What led to your interest in lung cancer prevention research?

There is a great need to improve lung cancer awareness and prevention. Lung cancer in never-smokers is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., yet there is often a stigma attached to lung cancer patients and survivors. As someone with a family history of lung cancer, and as a scientist, I view my passion for lung cancer research as my way to contribute to society.

2. How will the funding you received from the Prevent Cancer Foundation affect the trajectory of your career in cancer prevention research?

Funding for lung cancer research lags far behind other common cancers, such as breast or prostate cancer, despite the fact that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide. With decreased federal funding for cancer research, the grant from the Prevent Cancer Foundation allowed my lab to stay open and helped my team successfully compete for federal funding.

3. How is your research progressing? Any surprising developments so far? Have any opportunities arisen that you hadn’t anticipated?

My current research project focuses on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) as a biomarker for early detection and prevention of lung cancer. We were surprised to see differences in mtDNA biomarkers between two racial groups in the U.S. Although this needs to be validated in further studies, the data may help explain why certain racial groups are more susceptible to lung cancer.

4. How will your current research project advance the field of cancer prevention/early detection?

New biomarkers for early detection of lung cancer could potentially add to the growing list of tools that scientists and clinicians have to not only detect lung cancer at an earlier stage, but to identify high-risk populations who need to be more diligent in their cancer screenings.

Dr. Pine’s project is one of 48 projects on lung cancer prevention or early detection that the Prevent Cancer Foundation has funded since 1985.

Interested in learning more about lung cancer screening? Listen to our podcast with two lung cancer-screening advocates.

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