What if you could detect signs of lung cancer even before the appearance of precancerous activity?
One BU researcher may have found a way.
Avrum Spira (above), professor of medicine, pathology, and bioinformatics, says that newly identified genomic differences related to the immune system may play a key role in the early development of lung cancer, and that those differences can be detected in normal airway tissue.
That finding, published in April 2019 in Nature Communications, reveals potential for developing new therapeutics that could boost immune activity to prevent or halt progression of the disease, says Spira (ENG’02), the study’s senior author. In the United States alone, lung cancer kills more than 160,000 people each year.
“This is an example where academia does the very basic discovery science.... Industry can look at the data and figure out how to develop a therapeutic that will leverage that insight.” —Avrum Spira
Spira, director of the Johnson & Johnson Innovation Lung Cancer Center at Boston University on the Medical Campus and the global head of the Johnson & Johnson Lung Cancer Initiative, has been working for several years with collaborators on a Precancer Genomic Atlas project to identify early cellular and molecular changes that lead to invasive lung cancer.
The new paper is the first produced from the translational research alliance, launched in June 2018, between BU and Johnson & Johnson Innovation LLC.
“This is an example where academia does the very basic discovery science—finding patients who have these early precancer lesions, biopsying them, and doing very deep molecular profiling, and the bioinformatics analysis,” says Spira. Then, from those academic findings, “industry can look at the data and figure out how to develop a therapeutic that will leverage that insight.”