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Home > ARRA Stories > LINCCing University of Iowa Investigators Together To Improve Lung Cancer Therapies
LINCCing University of Iowa Investigators Together To Improve Lung Cancer Therapies

By Jenn Laskowski

April 12, 2010

Photo of Sudershan Bhatia and Douglas Spitz

Sudershan Bhatia, MD, MPH, PhD, is a physician in the Department of Radiation Oncology at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. He primarily works with lung cancer patients, many of whom are in their early 40's, have never smoked cigarettes, and suddenly end up with malignant cancer. Since lung cancer kills many individuals within the first five years of diagnosis, Bhatia relays a heightened sense of urgency. "If, by adding a safe therapy, we can make any difference in how we treat these individuals, then we will make a huge step in the right direction," he said.

Bhatia is partnering with Douglas R. Spitz, PhD, a professor and director of the Free Radical and Radiation Biology Program, to meld their respective clinical and basic science perspectives and use an interdisciplinary approach to try to improve cancer therapy for lung cancer patients.

This partnership is the result of a Looking into Clinical Connections (LINCC) pilot grant award. LINCC is a faculty development program, piloted in the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, which links together pairs of basic and clinical scientists by funding them with $50,000 pilot grant awards. In addition to the five LINCC partnerships currently underway at the University of Iowa, the program intends to support five more collaborations. Advertising for the second round of LINCC awards will begin at the end of spring semester with a summer due date. LINCC awards are an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act-supported CTSA administrative supplement that was awarded to the Institute for Clinical and Translational Science.

Spitz has been working with Dr. Melissa Fath (a research scientist), and Dr. Bryan Allen (a research resident) to pursue the hypothesis that feeding ketogenic diets may force tumor cells to increase utilization of their defective mitochondrial metabolism, thus leading to selective enhancement of oxidative stress in cancer versus normal cells. Therefore, the ketogenic diet may be nontoxic to normal tissue, yet create an environment in which current treatments could more effectively kill cancer cells.

Spitz and Bhatia are now investigating if and how ketogenic diets (therapeutic high-fat, low-carbohydrate diets routinely used to treat epileptic patients) can be used to enhance traditional cancer treatments, like radiation and chemotherapy, by selectively causing metabolic oxidative stress in cancer cells.

Since ketogenic diets have been used in humans for many years, they can be immediately introduced into the clinical setting. "There is a strong need to get something going and this study will establish pre-clinical data and establish that the ketogenic diet is safe to use in lung cancer patients without having to go through too many regulatory hurdles," Bhatia said.

Spitz and Bhatia view communication as the key to the success of this LINCC partnership. Spitz's team picks the drugs and radiation strategies to match what Bhatia says will most easily be clinically implemented. "And, as he writes the clinical trial, Dr. Bhatia's telling us to do the dietary manipulations that we think should most effectively enhance oxidative stress in cancer versus normal cells," Spitz said.

Both Spitz and Bhatia hope to see some dramatic responses in mice experiments to show that these strategies are efficacious. They also hope to determine the best sequencing and drug combinations to accompany the ketogenic diet and radiation in future clinical trials.

"As with all scientific studies, we don't now what the outcomes are going to be. We just know that we are going to work together and try to find the best thing that we can do to improve cancer therapy based on a comprehensive basic science as well as clinical understanding of the disease," Spitz said.

This article originally appeared on the University of Iowa website. Reposted with permission.

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