Funded by the Stuart Scott Memorial
Cancer Research Fund
Lung cancer is the top cancer killer in the United States and worldwide, claiming over 1.5 million lives in 2012, according to the World Health Organization. The purpose of our research project is to understand how patients’ genetic ancestry contributes to the likelihood of acquiring specific harmful changes in DNA (“mutations”) in lung cells that lead to lung cancer. Mutations in the EGFR gene are important because EGFR mutations often cause lung cancer, especially in non-smokers. Significantly, patients whose lung cancers have EGFR mutations benefit from drugs targeting mutant EGFR, including gefitinib, erlotinib, and afatinib. Mutations in EGFR occur more frequently in lung cancer patients of East Asian or Latin American origin but the basis for this observation is a mystery, especially because these mutations are not inherited but arise after birth. Here, we propose to analyze DNA from 1500 Latin American lung cancer patients, to understand whether and how their genetic makeup leads to increased risk of developing EGFR-mutant lung cancer.
By defining the basis of increased risk of EGFR mutant lung cancer in Latin American populations, we could enable the use of effective existing treatments in this population. Additionally, if we can find a genetic marker for susceptibility to EGFR mutation, we could facilitate the screening, early detection and early EGFR-targeted therapy of lung cancer in at-risk populations. We therefore believe that our research plan could lead not only to an improved intellectual understanding of lung cancer but to improved outcomes for lung cancer patients from susceptible populations.