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Lung Cancer Research to Expand With New Grant

Dr. Neelu Puri

The University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford recently received a two-year grant totaling $100,000 from the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois with support from the Dr. Louis and Violet Rubin Fund to continue lung cancer research already underway in Winnebago County and expand it to nearby counties.

Previous research funded by the CFNI conducted by Neelu Puri, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the College of Medicine Rockford, focused on promoting lung cancer detection in Winnebago County and studying those lung cancer patients in the hopes of developing better methods to detect lung cancer in its early, more treatable stages. The program has already screened 2,076 individuals and detected 17 early-stage lung cancer cases. This new grant will allow her team’s work to continue with the scope expanding to Boone, Ogle and Stephenson counties.

In Winnebago County, about 257 lung cancer cases are identified each year and 196 deaths due to lung cancer are reported. Add to that the 126 lung cancer cases and 95 deaths reported annually in Boone, Ogle and Stephenson counties, and lung cancer is a significant issue affecting northern Illinois. With earlier detection and treatment, the hope is for lung cancer patients to have improved survival rates.

The message Puri wants to get out to physicians and patients is based on guidelines the Centers for Disease Control issued recently. “Screening for lung cancer in individuals 55 to 80 years old with a smoking history of 20 cigarettes a day for 30 years using low-dose computed tomography is warranted,” says Puri. “If you fall in that category, ask your doctor at your next appointment about getting this screening done.”

Dr. Puri is studying the effect of a physician and public education program on lung cancer screenings for adult smokers who fit the CDC guidelines described above. Through seminars and educational materials, Puri’s team has led efforts to educate area doctors and the public about the importance of low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) screening for early detection of lung cancer, especially in high-risk smokers. She has also incorporated into the program encouragement of high-risk smokers to ask their physicians about this screening test.

In addition to promoting screening for lung cancer, Puri’s research team is studying different proteins in lung cancer tumors and how they correlate with patient survival at different stages of lung cancer in hope of using such biomarkers to develop lung cancer therapies. In addition, the researchers are also studying genes to develop a novel blood test for detecting lung cancer in its early stages.

“The research that goes on here at the College of Medicine Rockford improves the health of people in the region and has the potential to have global impact, thanks to research grants like this one from the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois,” says Alex Stagnaro-Green, M.D., regional dean of the College of Medicine Rockford. “We are incredibly thankful for their continued support, which has helped save lives in our community.”