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Breathing Easier

U of M researchers advance lung cancer prevention, early detection, and risk reduction

Researchers at the University of Minnesota have made recent advances in early detection, prevention, and risk reduction related to lung-damaging conditions such as cancer and pulmonary fibrosis.

The National Cancer Institute recently awarded University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center scientist Jian-Min Yuan, M.D., Ph.D., a five-year grant of more than $3 million to continue his efforts to identify tobacco byproducts in urine that predict lung cancer risk.

Yuan’s research could lead to the development of a urine screening test that identifies smokers at high risk for lung cancer. The goal would be to predict lung cancer risk in time to prevent the cancer or to detect it earlier, allowing more time to successfully treat the disease.

In related work, University cancer researcher Vitaly Polunovsky, Ph.D., and Peter Bitterman, M.D., a professor of medicine affiliated with the University’s Center for Lung Science and Health (CLSH), are working with chemists, engineers, and mathematicians to develop novel therapies to prevent and treat lung cancer.

“The CLSH has helped bring scientists together from across the University to form a team that can tackle the complex biological and technological challenges posed by the No. 1 cancer killer in the world,” says Bitterman of the partnership.

They have discovered that inhibiting a molecular target known as translation factor 4F can slow cancerous tumor growth and weaken the cancer. “Our work has identified translation factor 4F as an essential component of the cancer circuitry where many different cancer-causing signals come together to change a cell from normal to cancer—making it a very attractive target for drug discovery,” says Bitterman.

Bitterman also is investigating what goes wrong with the healthy cells in the lungs of people who have pulmonary fibrosis or cancer and what can be done to correct it. In collaboration with chemists in the College of Pharmacy, he is developing new methods to test agents that fight cancer and prevent tissue scarring. The hope is that these research efforts will improve lung health outcomes for future patients.

To support work on lung-related initiatives, visit

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