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Sofia Merajver
Sofia Merajver

$7.6 million gift launches new lung cancer research initiative at U-M

University of Michigan Health 1/13/22

ANN ARBOR, Michigan – Increased understanding of the genetic mutations that drive non-small cell lung cancer has led to new, effective treatments in recent years. Yet when a patient is diagnosed with an alteration in the ALK gene, a major concern is that their cancer may become resistant to standard therapy over time. If that happens, which drug or combination of drugs will they turn to?

A $7.6 million gift from Judith L. Tam and the Richard Tam Foundation has launched an accelerated research initiative at the University of Michigan Health Rogel Cancer Center to answer those questions — and to identify biological pathways that can be targeted with new approaches to treatment. About 100,000 people globally are diagnosed each year with ALK-positive lung cancer, which has a high risk of spreading to other parts of the body.

“We are very impressed with the talented, multidisciplinary team that the Rogel Cancer Center has brought together to take on this problem,” says Judith L. Tam, president of the Richard Tam Foundation. “We are grateful that they are partnering with us and with experts from across the country to pursue the best possible paths forward.”

U-M researchers have launched a three-pronged initiative:

  • Testing patient tissue to determine how each person’s cancer will respond to different therapies
  • Studying the earliest events in disease progression so that it can be detected and therapy can be adjusted accordingly
  • Developing new treatments

“We are leveraging techniques we have used to advance precision health for breast and other cancers to help patients with ALK-positive lung cancer,” says Sofia D. Merajver, M.D., Ph.D., the GreaterGood Breast Cancer Research Professor and director of the Breast and Ovarian Cancer Risk Evaluation Program at Michigan Medicine.

As the lead investigator for the initiative, Merajver has brought together clinical and scientific experts in cancer metastases, thoracic oncology, thoracic surgery, genetics, molecular pharmacology, cell biology, pathology, organoid development, data science, and more. She also has assembled an advisory board that includes representation from a patient advocacy organization and world-renowned lung cancer experts.

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