of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, in association with Pennsylvania State
University Medical College and Lincoln University, has received
$4.2 million to study gene-environment interactions that
increase the risk of lung cancer in African American and
Caucasian smokers and non-smokers.
||The award, which was announced by Governor
Rendell last month, will fund the establishment of a Center
for Gene-Environment Interactions in Lung Cancer directed
by Steve Whitehead, PhD, Professor of Pharmacology.
||The study will be conducted under the
Gene-Environment Initiative of Penn’s Center of Excellence
in Environmental Toxicology (CEET), directed by Trevor
M. Penning, PhD.
||The funds were awarded from Pennsylvania’s
share of the national tobacco settlement for 2006-2007.
(PHILADELPHIA) – The University of
Pennsylvania School of Medicine, in association with Pennsylvania
State University Medical College and Lincoln
University, has received $4.2 million to study
gene-environment interactions that increase the risk of lung
cancer in African American and Caucasian smokers and non-smokers. The
funds were awarded from Pennsylvania’s share of the national
tobacco settlement for 2006-2007.
The award, which was announced by Governor
Rendell last month, will fund
the establishment of a Center for Gene-Environment Interactions in Lung
Cancer directed by Steve Whitehead, PhD, Professor of Pharmacology. The
study will be conducted under the Gene-Environment
Initiative of Penn’s
Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology (CEET), directed by Trevor
M. Penning, PhD.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the adult U.S. population. “This
year alone 174,500 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed and almost
as many deaths will result,” notes Penning. “Eighty-five to
ninety percent of all lung cancer is seen in individuals who smoke cigarettes,
yet only ten-percent of those who smoke will succumb to the disease. These
statistics suggest that a significant gene-environment interaction exists.”
Cigarette smoke contains two major classes of cancer-causing chemicals:
those derived from nicotine and those derived from polycyclic
aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs are also produced by burning fossil
are ubiquitous environmental pollutants. “PAHs are present in soot that is found at relatively high concentrations in the air we breathe
in urban environments,” explains Penning. “Exposure to environmental
PAHs may also account for lung-cancer incidence in people who have never
The researchers aim to enroll and compare 600 lung-cancer patients from
Philadelphia, which has high concentrations of air pollutants, and 600
patients from Hershey, Pa., which has comparatively unpolluted air. In
addition, for the 600 recruits in the Philadelphia-based part of the project,
the investigators hope to recruit 300 African Americans and the same number
of Caucasians to study possible racial differences in gene-environment
causes of lung cancer.
Each site will also recruit 600 control individuals who do not have lung
cancer, even though they have the same smoking behavior and exposures
The study subjects will answer questions about their smoking history
and exposure to airborne pollutants. These pollutants will also be mapped
cartographically using GIS technologies to ascertain distribution in each
Exposure to air pollutants for each subject will be analyzed together
with their individual variation in approximately 100 genes. “The
genes to be tested are considered to be very important for dealing with
the carcinogens that are known to cause lung cancer and include many of
those responsible for the metabolism and detoxification of carcinogens
and for repairing DNA damage caused by carcinogens,” explains Whitehead.
Additionally, current exposure to nicotine and PAHs will be estimated
by measuring molecules called biomarkers produced from these chemicals
in the body. This is an important component to the study, especially for
estimating carcinogen levels in participants who have never smoked but
have been exposed to air pollutants.
Whitehead and Penning both note that urban areas that are most polluted
are very often occupied by residents of lower socio-economic status and
issues of health-disparity and environmental justice exist. Faculty and
student interns from Lincoln University will conduct questionnaire-based
surveys to identify health-care disparities between the various populations
to be enrolled. In addition, they will examine how information about genetic
risk is understood and acted upon by the various participating groups.
“Once lung cancer is diagnosed, the five-year survival rate is
less than 15 percent,” notes Penning. “This study provides
the opportunity to identify those individuals who may be genetically pre-disposed
to lung cancer. This genetic information could provide the impetus for
high-risk individuals to enter smoking
cessation programs. In addition,
a better understanding of the relationship between pollution and genetic
factors in lung cancer would inform agencies involved in urban planning
and facilitate the formulation and implementation of environmental health
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Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $6.7 billion enterprise.
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