Donations Boost Institute's Lung Cancer Research

Lung cancer research at Cedars-Sinai has received a big boost from a grateful patient and an anonymous individual. Their combined donations, totaling $1 million, will help scientists at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute investigate how to combat this devastating disease, which is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide.

The new Lung Cancer Research Awards, granted after an intensely competitive process, will support three studies for up to $300,000 each.

Most of the funds came from an estate gift by the late Judith Toscano of Los Angeles, who was a patient at Cedars-Sinai. "The gift points to gratitude for the care she received over many years," said Sarah Andrews, associate director of development for the cancer institute. Toscano, a social worker, died last year.

One of the award recipients is Ronald Natale, MD, professor of Medicine, director of the institute's lung cancer clinical program and medical director of the clinical lung cancer program at the Women's Guild Lung Institute. In his funded study, he will seek to better gauge the effectiveness of therapies for lung cancers that target mutations in the epidermal growth factor receptor, or EGFR, gene. To accomplish this, he is using new molecular imaging and protein profiling techniques that are not currently in clinical use.

Another awardee, Peter Chen, MD, associate professor and director of the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine in the Department of Medicine, is looking at how a protein-coding gene known as syndecan-1 may help control the growth and invasiveness of cancerous cells. He said he hopes his data may help in developing new experimental treatments.

The third study leverages existing genomic datasets on lung cancer. Researchers will use this data to characterize various forms of non-small cell lung cancer — the most common type. They also want to better understand the different cell types present in the normal human lung and how they may be altered during cancer development. The co-investigators are Barry Stripp, PhD, professor of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and director of lung stem cell research, and Benjamin Berman, PhD, associate professor of Biomedical Sciences and Medicine and director of the new Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Research Center.

Choosing the awardees was a two-stage process. Institute faculty members submitted 14 applications to an internal review committee led by Paul W. Noble, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Medicine and director of the lung institute. The top seven applications were then sent out for external review by experts at other academic institutions, who identified the three winners.

"With these awards, we are leveraging our existing research expertise and applying it to lung cancer," said Shreya Kanodia, PhD, an assistant professor of Biomedical Sciences and academic/research director at the cancer institute. She noted that Cedars-Sinai already has a robust clinical program for lung cancer, which provided services to about 400 patients last year.

Steven Piantadosi, MD, PhD, professor of Medicine and director of the cancer institute, said he hopes the funds will encourage collaborations across institutes "to focus on a relatively common and serious cancer. This serves the purpose of applying discoveries from other tumors to lung cancer, and to draw in experts in lung disease to devote efforts to cancer."

Ronald Natale, MD

Peter Chen, MD

Benjamin Berman, PhD

Barry Stripp, PhD