The Arkansas Research Alliance on Wednesday (Nov. 11) announced a $764,000 contract with the Food And Drug Administration (FDA) to determine if a set of procedures and tests can be developed to screen for lung cancer with a simple blood test.
Such a test is a theoretical possibility, and Dr. Don Johann, associate professor of medicine and biomedical informatics at the UAMS Myeloma Institute, will determine if procedures to make the screening practical are possible.
The project will build on advancements in the ability to understand intricacies of human gene sequences, especially mutations involving certain lung cancers. It is also consistent with the President’s and Congress’s calls for more focus in the area of “precision medicine,” an approach made possible by these new genetic advances. In precision medicine, treatment is tailored to each patient’s needs based on their own unique genetic (and other) characteristics, rather than a broad approach covering all patients with a certain condition.
“This is a new model of patient treatment,” UAMS Chancellor Dr. Dan Rahn said in a statement. “In the future, we will not all receive the same drugs for the same condidtions. Drugs will be developed for each person’s specific genetic makeup.”
Because of the level of information involved when working with genetics, a number of tools are involved that utilize a combination of computer science, statistics, mathematics, engineering and biology to gain an understanding of the enormity of data. These tools are used in the discipline of “bioinformatics,” which makes up an additional component of the contract with the FDA. That portion of work involves Arkansas’ five research universities; UAMS, UALR, ASU, UAPB and the University of Arkansas in conjunction with the National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR) in Jefferson.
“NCTR , along with the collaborative nature of our universities gives our state an enormous research capability, ” Arkansas Research Alliance President and CEO Jerry Adams said in the statement. “Thanks to these partnerships Arkansas continues to makes strides among America’s research elite.”
Additionally, the project will consider the DNA from smokers, non-smokers and those with compromised immune systems, in order to understand the differences among those groups. Arkansans suffer from lung cancer at a rate higher than the national average. According to a 2012 study from the Centers for Disease Control, Arkansas had the third highest lung cancer death rate in the United States.
The contract is a result of a Memorandum of Understanding between the FDA and Arkansas, in which the two government entities collaborate to research important areas of study such as nanotechnology and bioinformatics.