FDA Contract Funds UAMS Lung Cancer Research

By Lee Hogan

Donald J. Johann Jr., M.D., will use the funding to determine if a simple blood test can detect lung cancer at an early stage, when the cancer is more easily treated.

“Solid tumors can develop over 20-30 years and are often not detected until they are advanced and hard to treat. We will examine whether the cellular material shed by tumors into blood can help us detect cancer earlier and improve treatment outcomes,” said Johann, associate professor of medicine in the UAMS College of Medicine (COM) Division of Hematology/Oncology and Department of Biomedical Informatics.

Johann’s study will focus on detecting non-small cell lung cancer of the adenocarcinoma subtype and will enroll four to eight patients in the first year. Designed to be a three-year project, subsequent years will enroll about 12 patients each year. Additional funding for years two and three will be determined based on the study’s first-year performance.

Study participants will undergo a blood test each month before and during therapy to see how their tumor evolves.

“Ultimately, our goal is to have less invasive but more effective diagnostic tests for cancer patients that will identify changes in the disease process earlier so revisions in therapy may be considered sooner. Regarding lung cancer, another aim includes an efficient screening test that provides more confidence in determining which patients need to undergo a standard, invasive biopsy and which can just be monitored for changes,” Johann said.

In addition to his lab work, Johann’s team will collaborate with colleagues at four other Arkansas research universities to develop and analyze the large, complex data sets generated by the study’s genomics-based approach. Along with UAMS, these institutions comprise the Arkansas Research Alliance (ARA) and include: the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Arkansas State University, and University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in conjunction with the National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR) in Jefferson County.

“By working with our ARA partner organizations, we can use genomics, high-performance computing and data analysis to understand the intricacies of human gene sequences, particularly in relation to lung cancer,” Johann said.

He said the team is excited to contribute to the advancement of precision medicine, which offers the ability to customize medical treatment based on a person’s genes, environment and lifestyle.