Researcher Profile: Ignacio Wistuba

Ignacio Wistuba for Sept 2013 e-newsletter

Ignacio Wistuba, MD, Chairman and Professor of Translational Molecular Pathology, and his colleagues at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center have been awarded a research grant from LUNGevity Foundation to identify biomarkers that can ultimately serve as the basis for the early detection of small cell lung cancer (SCLC).

Dr. Wistuba is collaborating on this project with Humam Kadara, PhD, Assistant Professor of Translational Molecular Pathology.

Little is known about the molecular causes of SCLC, making the disease difficult to detect in its early stages when it is the most treatable. To help understand the basis of disease and develop critical early detection tests, Dr. Wistuba has previously shown that tissue close to SCLC tumors often has heightened malignant properties at the molecular level, even though the tissue looks normal. These molecular changes are found in easily accessible sites, such as the nose and airway, making them exciting resources for early-stage biomarkers that can be used in early detection tests.

Building on this work, Dr. Wistuba and his research team are using highly efficient technologies to study the molecular makeup of cells lining the nose and airway in patients with SCLC, non-small cell lung cancer and benign disease, in order to identify early indicators of SCLC. Once the researchers have homed in on the most promising biomarkers, they will test their ability to accurately diagnose patients who are suspected of having lung cancer.

“There is a lot that we don’t know about small cell lung cancer,” says Dr. Wistuba. “But with this work we are gaining a better grasp on the underlying mechanisms of disease. Hopefully, these studies will also lead to a minimally invasive test for the early detection of small cell lung cancer.”

If Dr. Wistuba’s work is successful, he could be laying the groundwork for an easy and inexpensive test to determine whether patients have early-stage SCLC. By conducting this research, Dr. Wistuba and his team could be leading us to a major breakthrough in the screening and detection of SCLC that would save many lives.