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Conquest - 2003 Research Awards

Making the Connection 2001-2008

2003 Research Awards

Date: April 20, 2010

CRF-SPONSORED RESEARCHERS at Johns Hopkins have made significant inroads in understanding the cellular, genetic, and environmental causes of cancer. Their work has been published in scientific journals and has been the subject of media reports. These successes serve as proof of principle—investing in cancer research pays off.

So, despite a projected $1.2 billion deficit and a new governor and many new legislators in office, the state maintains its commitment to the CRF.

New research included findings on potential carcinogens in Maryland’s air and food supply that could be tied to the state’s disproportionately high cancer rates and an innovative program to introduce novel therapies for lung cancer, the leading cancer killer of men and women and the cancer most clearly tied to tobacco.

Maryland’s cancer death rates are among the highest in the nation. Maryland ranked third
in a report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on “estimated cancer risk
due to air toxic ambient concentrations,” and Baltimore City ranked first for “added cancer deaths attributable to air toxics.” Investigators TIMOTHY BUCKLEY, PH.D. ,
and THOMAS A. BURKE, PH.D. believe human exposure to cancer causing
agents in the environment is a contributing factor to both Baltimore City’s and the State’s
overall higher cancer rates.

Epidemiological studies have shown that living in areas that are closer to sources of air
pollution is related to an increased risk of lung cancer. Others have shown that urban
populations have higher incidence rates for a majority of cancers. By evaluating both the
geographical distribution of environmental carcinogens and cancer mortality rates for
Maryland, insights can be gained regarding at-risk populations and effective prevention
strategies. Investigators are not only looking at air, but food, dust, soil, and other environmental media with which chemical carcinogens come in contact. While the inhalation of carcinogens is most commonly thought of, the consumption of them in
food and absorption through skin represent exposures that far exceed inhalation.

This study characterized exposure and risk in urban areas of Maryland, identified biomarkers to evaluate exposure and risk for Marylanders, identified the most vulnerable populations within the State, and generated data for targeted prevention and intervention strategies for cancer reduction in Maryland. ?

, stood on city streets and collected bus emissions to
evaluate the health effects of citizens breathing daily doses of these carcinogenic fumes.
“Assessing a community’s cancer risk could be as simple as counting the number of buses, trucks and cars that pass through the neighborhood,” said Buckley. One result of
the team’s research was the development of the Clean Fuel Buses group and its booklet
“Breathing Easier in Baltimore.” The booklet contains Buckley’s research results and is
being used to influence the Mass Transit Administration to examine its policies for the type of fuel it uses and the types of buses purchased in the future. ?

Construction of a cigarette smoke exposure facility by SHYAM BISWAL, PH.D. , was
funded under a previous CRF grant and is now being used in animal trials to measure
cancer-causing particles, including carbon dioxide, nicotine, and acrolein. These animal
models are revealing new information about smoking-related carcinogens and the cellular
changes that ultimately result in lung cancer.

This work has been published in two scientific journals and was reported at the Society of Toxicology annual meeting in March 2002. The investigators are now expanding their research to identify and test chemopreventive agents that could block the negative impact of cigarette smoke on cells, or specific cellular changes that could serve as biomarkers for the early detection of lung cancer.

Using a technique called domain insertion, MARK OSTERMEIER, PH.D. ,
used enzymes as molecular scissors to cut and paste different genes into a single gene strip. The end result was a molecular “switch”—a microscopic protein partnership in which one member controls the activity of another. One part of the coupled gene sends a
signal telling the other part to change its behavior. Ostermeier said one part of the fused gene might only react to cancer cells and signal its partner to release a toxin to kill diseased tissue but leave healthy cells alone. ?

A multidisciplinary team of clinical, basic, and population scientists, led by JULIE BRAHMER, M.D. , JAMES HERMAN, M.D., CHARLES M. RUDIN, M.D. , P H . D. , and REX YUNG, M.D. developed the Lung Cancer Therapeutics Program to develop better lung cancer prevention and treatment options and to build stronger connections between laboratory and patient-based research. The investigators used laboratory findings about the initiation and progression of lung cancer to develop clinical trials for risk assessment and early detection of lung cancer. This work will complement
the Johns Hopkins Lung Cancer SPORE (Specialized Programs of Research Excellence), quickly moving laboratory discoveries to cancer treatments. ?

The burden of cancer is not shared equally by all populations. Much evidence points to broad disparities in cancer prevention, treatment, health service utilization, and health outcomes across racial/ethnic and socio-economic groups in the United States. But while many experts have offered explanations for these health disparities, they have not
suggested interventions to cost-effectively reduce them.  A team led by CHRIS GIBBONS, M.D., M.P.H. developed used community-based health risk management to administer health risk assessments, conduct motivational interviews, provide culturally
appropriate translation of current health guidelines, provide lifestyle counseling, coordinate insurance, and facilitate medical care and prevention services to improve adherence to recommended screening and early diagnosis guidelines and follow-up support. ?

JEAN FORD, M.D. , studied the molecular epidemiology of lung cancer in Baltimore.
KRISTEN H. KJRULFF, PH.D., investigated racial disparities among cervical cancer patients. Research by GENEVIEVE M. MATANOSKI, M.D. , D R . P H . , focused on racial disparities in patterns of care for breast cancer. ELIZABETH PLATZ, SC.D., M.P. H . , and ARAVINDA CHAKRAVARTI, PH.D. , launched a cancer prevention and control population resource. Platz and WILLIAM NELSON, M.D. , P H . D. investigated racial/ethnic variations in steroid hormone concentration across age in U.S. men and its connection to prostate cancer.