Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer among men and women throughout the world. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 220,000 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer in the United States, and 165,000 will die from the disease this year. Research at WVU’s Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center could dramatically reduce lung cancer death rates through molecular prediction.

The prognosis for a lung cancer diagnosis is bleak even if the disease is detected early. The major treatment option for early stage lung cancer is surgery. However, about half of those who have surgery will develop and die from tumor recurrence within five years following surgery, and the addition of chemotherapy to the treatment regimen has minimal benefit.

Lan Guo, Ph.D., associate professor at the Cancer Center, is leading research aimed at predicting tumor recurrence to help physicians identify patients whose lung cancer is likely to come back and determine which ones could benefit from chemotherapy.

“Lung cancer is a challenging cancer to treat because it is a complex disease that can be caused by various factors,” said Dr. Guo, who studies gene signatures, or patterns, and their association with lung cancer. “It’s very difficult to identify gene patterns that are common in groups of lung cancer patients.”

Guo and her team analyzed 442 lung cancer patient samples with a focus on the molecular interactions between genes and proteins and the networks they form. They identified 21 gene signatures that outperformed all previously documented gene signatures in predicting lung cancer recurrence in all tumor samples, including patients with early stage cancer as well as those with early stage cancer who had no prior chemotherapy.

“Using this approach, we are identifying genes in the context of biological processes and networks and getting closer to understanding the molecular events underlying metastasis,” she said. “Eventually, we hope to identify biomarkers for lung cancer prognosis and chemo response.”

Guo said the study results could lead to the development of a commercial prognostic gene test for lung cancer, similar to those already developed for breast cancer.

WVU is collaborating with the University of Michigan and Case Western Reserve University to secure more patient samples and use a second technique to validate the 21 gene patterns.

Guo’s research was supported by a $1-million grant from the National Library of Medicine and a $1-million National Institutes of Health stimulus grant.

Co-authors of the research include Ying-Wooi Wan of the Cancer Center and David G. Beer, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan.

The WVU study “Signaling pathway-based identification of extensive prognostic gene signatures for lung adenocarcinoma” appears in the April edition of the international journal “Lung Cancer” and is featured online on Global Medical Discovery at