U of L receives $6.7 million grant to advance lung cancer research Thursday, Jan 27 2022 

By Joe Wilson — 

On Jan. 26, U of L announced that the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences will sponsor a $6.7 million grant to research the link between metals and lung cancer.

Dr. John Pierce Wise Sr., professor in the department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, will lead the eight-year research project. Wise will partner with experts from across the U.S., Germany, China and Japan to examine the relationship between metals and lung cancer. The grant will be funded by the Revolutionizing Innovative Visionary Environmental Health Research program.

Although lung cancer is commonly attributed to smoking, other environmental conditions contribute to its development. 1 in 5 women and 1 in 12 men who develop lung cancer have never smoked. Exposure to metals has been established as a cause of cancer, but scientists do not have an extensive understanding of the link between metal and lung cancer specifically.

Wise has dedicated three decades of his career toward research of metals and cancer. In his previous work, Wise studied metal exposure in whale blubber and concluded that while animals are exposed to metals in the ocean, they are less likely to develop cancer as compared to humans. The grant will allow Wise and his team of researchers to understand the discrepancy in rates of cancer between animals and humans.

“U of L is one of the top institutions in the country in research and discovery for how human health is influenced by our environment, and preeminent researchers like Dr. Wise are the reason. This grant is recognition of the incredible contributions Dr. Wise has made to the field and provides ongoing support for continued discovery for years to come,” said Kevin Gardner, U of L executive vice president of research and innovation.

In response to the announcement, U of L Interim President Lori Stewart Gonzalez said, “We are grateful for the institute’s confidence in Dr. Wise and our university to lead this work in addressing such a significant health concern. I am excited to see this amazing research continue and expand at U of L thanks to this grant.”

According to the American Lung Association, Kentucky has the highest rates of lung cancer in the country. Lung cancer in the state is known to be particularly deadly, with only 19 percent of patients alive after five years of diagnosis. This is lower than the national average of 24 percent.

File Graphic // The Louisville Cardinal 

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Kentucky Leads Nation In New Lung Cancer Cases  Wednesday, Nov 13 2019 

Kentucky has the nation’s worst rate of new lung cancer cases, according to a new report from the American Lung Association.

The state also has one of the lowest five-year survival rates after diagnosis: only 17.6 percent of Kentuckians diagnosed with lung cancer live for at least five years after their diagnosis. That means the majority of people die within five years.

Nationwide, lung cancer has the worst survival rates of all cancers. That’s in part because it often goes undetected until it’s in the advanced stages, and thus is less likely to be successfully treated.

Shannon Baker, the director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Kentucky, said one big factor contributing to Kentucky’s lung cancer rate is tobacco use.

“Tobacco use in Kentucky is right now the second highest in the nation, and oftentimes depending on when you look, the highest in the nation,” Baker said.

Though the state had bad lung cancer rates and survival outcomes, there were a couple of bright spots in the report. Kentucky ranked #4 in screening for lung cancer. Nationally, 4.2 percent of people at a high risk for lung cancer actually had an annual low-dose CT scan to detect the cancer. But in Kentucky, 10.3 percent of high-risk patients were screened.

Another positive: only 11.3 percent of Kentuckians diagnosed with lung cancer don’t receive treatment: lower than the 15.4 percent of patients nationwide that go untreated. Lung cancer can be treated with surgery if it’s caught early enough, and Kentucky ranks about average in the  lung cancer cases that are caught early and are good candidates for surgery.

Baker said there are a few things the Kentucky legislature could do to decrease Kentucky’s lung cancer rate, including considering a bill pre-filed by Rep. Jerry Miller to tax e-cigarettes and vapes at the same rate as traditional cigarettes. Though there’s no definitive research showing that vaping causes lung cancer, there is concern among advocates that it might. 

“The common misconception about e-cigarettes is that it is a harmless water vapor, and that is absolutely not true,” Baker said. “It is an aerosol laden with carcinogens, fine particles, lead and other compounds that we know create damage to the lung.”

She also said the Lung Association is working toward getting sponsors for one bill to increase funding for tobacco prevention efforts and another to raise the legal age to buy tobacco products to 21.