Researcher Receives Entrepreneur Award from American Thoracic Society

Spira recognized for work on early detection of lung cancer

Avrum Spira, professor of medicine, pathology and laboratory medicine, and bioinformatics at Boston University School of Medicine. Photo by Cydney Scott

Avrum Spira (ENG’02), a professor of medicine, pathology and laboratory medicine, and bioinformatics at Boston University School of Medicine (MED), is the inaugural recipient of the Research Innovation and Translation Achievement Award from the American Thoracic Society (ATS).

Spira, who also directs the BU-BMC (Boston Medical Center) Cancer Center, was recognized for the translational impact his work has had on early detection of lung cancer as well as his development of new drugs for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

After completing his pulmonary and critical care medicine fellowship and receiving a master’s degree in bioinformatics at BU, Spira characterized the first human airway transcriptome (a collection of all the gene activity in a cell) to determine the reversible and permanent genomic changes that occur in the airway with smoking. Following the hypothesis that smoking creates a molecular “field of injury” throughout the airway of patients with lung cancer and COPD, he used bronchoscopic brushings of the large airways to identify an RNA biomarker that can detect the presence of lung cancer deep within the lung, in a test—now used clinically—called Percepta®.

Hypothesizing that the field of injury extends to the entire upper respiratory tract, his lab has recently developed a gene expression signature in nasal brushings that may serve as a noninvasive biomarker for diagnosing lung cancer in lesions found on chest imaging.

“Avrum Spira is a visionary in lung genomics,” says David Center, MED associate provost for translational research. “He is a gifted computational mathematician, educator, and active intensivist who has brought science to the clinic and inspired dozens of trainees. There are few whose discoveries have made a greater direct impact on diagnosis and daily care of patients with lung cancer and COPD in the past 20 years.”

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