Direct clinical impact possible from The American Lung Association- funded study at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
(November 8, 2017) - Seattle, WA
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The American Lung Association is excited to announce it has awarded a $200,000 research grant to Dr. Taran Gujral of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. One of the primary goals of the American Lung Association’s research program is to fund scientists at pivotal points in their careers to foster a commitment to lung disease research. Dr. Gujral’s research represents a capstone in his studies of diagnosing gene mutations in cancer patients to inform effective treatment plans.
With a multidisciplinary background in pathology, biochemistry and systems biology gained at Queens University and Harvard Medical School, Dr. Gujral has most recently been studying gene mutations in thyroid and pancreatic cancer patients. In a 2017 study, he observed that 20 different cell lines from pancreatic cancer patients all responded to the chemotherapy drug gemcitabine (Gemzar) in a laboratory setting, but most patients did not respond in the clinical setting. He went on to discover the reason why: the design of tumor cells of some patients, resulting from the cells’ sensing mechanism, literally pumps the drug back out before it can be effective. Further, he discovered how cancer cells that carry a gene mutation known as STK11 overcame this sensing mechanism and were more responsive to gemcitabine.
STK11 is the second most frequently occurring mutation in non-small cell lung cancer, which makes up 80% of lung cancer cases. Knowing that gemcitabine is already approved for therapy in patients with lung cancer, Dr. Gujral realized that further research could have imminent lifesaving impact for those living with lung cancer. The grant from the American Lung Association will fund two years of research to test his hypotheses for a more individualized lung cancer treatment option.
Dr. Gujral’s long-term goal is to establish an FDA-approved clinical diagnostic test to identify patients carrying the STK11 mutation. Armed with this knowledge, doctors can make informed decisions about whether the patient will benefit from gemcitabine treatment, and thereby provide optimal treatment plans and eliminate unnecessary side effects.
Dr. Gujral also hypothesizes that he can change the mutated cell’s behavior, thereby increasing the ability of gemcitabine to stay within the cell long enough to be effective. Validating this hypothesis with a mouse study would provide a path for therapeutic options for those patients with this lung cancer mutation.
“What drives me is making an impact in patient’s lives,” says Dr. Gujral. “Research is a continuous and intense process, not a short-term outcome. We bear the responsibility of comitting ourselves faithfully over the years to provide validated scientific insights and to address unmet medical needs. Doctors, patients and their caregivers should know that we are making progress, and the findings are going to be useful.”
Bev Stewart, Senior Vice President with the American Lung Association, Mountain Pacific region agrees. “We need more treatment options to fight lung cancer. Each lung cancer research project funded brings us closer to realizing our vision of a world free of lung disease. In speaking with Dr. Gujral about this project, I am reminded of the hope research grants us all and proud the American Lung Association is able to ensure such promising ideas are brought to light.”
About the American Lung Association
The American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease, through research, education and advocacy. The work of the American Lung Association is focused on four strategic imperatives: to defeat lung cancer; to improve the air we breathe; to reduce the burden of lung disease on individuals and their families; and to eliminate tobacco use and tobacco-related diseases. For more information about the American Lung Association, a holder of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Guide Seal, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: Lung.org.
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1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) Lung.org-
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