Penn leads $4 million grant to study gene-environment interactions in lung cancer

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 Pennsylvanias 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 Penns 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 fuels and 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 smoked.

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

Contact: Karen Kreeger
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

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