Kwok-Kin Wong, MD, PhD

Lung Cancer Discovery Award: Mouse Model of Lung Cancer Will Add to Knowledge of How Cancer Spreads

This is an exciting time to be studying lung cancer, says Kwok-Kin Wong, MD, PhD. Dr. Wong, the recipient of an American Lung Association Lung Cancer Discovery Award, states that advances in genetics are pushing the field forward. "In the past five or six years, we've begun to understand that lung cancer is not a single disease but a complicated set of diseases caused by many genetic mutations," Dr. Wong says.

As both a laboratory scientist and a physician who treats lung cancer patients, Dr. Wong sees how critically new treatments are needed and what challenges lie ahead to develop those treatments. "To improve the long-term survival of patients with lung cancer, we need a better understanding of the processes involved in lung cancer progression and metastasis, or spread, so we can identify targets for intervention," he says.

Until recently, there has not been a good model system to study lung cancer metastasis in a living organism. Dr. Wong's lab has developed a new mouse model with a genetic mutation that spontaneously develops lung cancer that spreads to other organs, so that he can study the pathways that are involved in the cancer's growth and spread. "We want to figure out which set of genes are activated in people with this genetic mutation that leads to metastasis," he says. "A better understanding of the genetic events that are involved in metastatic growth will help guide the development of new therapies that can interfere with this deadly process."

Dr. Wong says the Lung Cancer Discovery Award is critical to helping him conduct his research. "It's very difficult to get funding from the federal government for research," he says. "You need a lot of compelling preliminary data. This grant will help me generate data so that I can apply for funding from the NIH (National Institutes of Health)." Lung cancer research has the potential to provide new treatments, but it needs more attention and funding, he says. "We don't have a lot of advocates compared with breast, prostate and colon cancer," he says. "We are poised to make important findings, but we need a lot more funding to make discoveries that will directly impact patient care."