While the benefits and cost-effectiveness of spiral CT scans for widespread lung cancer screening are still being studied in the radiological community, Ohio State University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center (OSUCCC), Columbus, is embarking on a project that may help define imaging’s role in this realm while at the same time reap positive rewards for the state, from both a business and health care perspective.

OSUCCC was recently granted an $8 million Third Frontier award by the Biomedical Research and Technology Transfer Trust Fund (BRTTTF), which was established to funnel dollars from tobacco company settlement agreements back into research. Competitive grants are made for biomedical research and technology transfer projects that will both improve the health of Ohioans and enhance jobs and business opportunities in the statewith a special nod given to smoking-related programs that are proposed.1 From a business perspective, the OSUCCC projectset to begin in the second quarter of 2004is expected to create 1,100 new jobs in the state over the next decade.2

Figure. Ohio program includes screening of high-risk residents as well as research to assess new prevention and therapy approaches.

“This is an investment back into the state in terms of high-technology jobs, research, and technology infrastructure,” says Anthony R. Howard, administrator of the BRTTTF. “Biomedical research is one of the areas identified as the state’s core competencies in terms of Ohio’s future, both because the state has capabilities in that area and because it’s a growing field in general.”

In addition to creating jobs, the OSUCCC program has the potential to impact the health of the smoking population of Ohio, where tobacco-related illnesses run up costs of $5 billion a year.3 To that end, the program focuses on prevention, early detection, and improved treatment by using existing preclinical models, patented technologies, and patient populations.

“This project nicely demonstrates how imaging is a key enabling technology as we tackle clinical challenges of today and merge them with our ever-increasing knowledge of molecular and genetic science,” explains Michael Knopp, MD, PhD, professor of radiology, OSU Department of Radiology.

That partnership is reflected in the participation of several other organizations as well. Battelle Memorial Institute and two vendors, including a major imaging technology vendor, are participants in the OSUCCC project, and Battelle and the imaging vendor have added an additional $13.5 million to the Third Frontier funds.2

Detection of cancerous nodules will be enabled by using a 16-slice PET/CT scanner plus hardware for image analysis. In addition to imaging, Knopp says the research team will focus heavily on the search for anatomic, physiologic, biochemical, or molecular parameters that are associated with the presence and severity of lung cancer.

“Catching cancers early enough is not the role of just imaging or just biomarkers, but a combination of both,” he says. “This is the strategy used in this project, and therefore the strong focus on screening population will be the correlation to biomarkers. We have to improve the capabilities and our pathophysiologic understanding, which is why such a project should be performed in an intense partnership between academia and industrial partners.”

The project’s therapeutic aspect involves the cooperation of a pharmaceutical company that manufactures a device allowing patients to inhale chemotherapeutic agents that directly contact tumor cells while limiting toxicity to the rest of the body. Researchers will create and study aerosolized versions of chemopreventive agents already found in other forms to be effective in reducing lung cancer in animals.3

The project also will offer a comprehensive tobacco cessation program to those who have been unable to quit smoking using a model of intervention involving lay health educators in the community. A portion of the grant will also go to the creation of a CD to support cessation efforts, which will be tested in Ohio counties with the highest incidence of smoking and tobacco use.3

Throughout the duration of the project, Knopp says researchers and physicians will be taking other, similar research into considerationas well as address arguments such as those that say nodules cannot be found early enough to do any good or that repeated CT scans pose radiation risks.

“The clinician and scientists involved in this project have detailed insight into many ongoing projects such as the National Lung Cancer Screening trial, and the findings of these ongoing projects have been and will be considered on an ongoing basis,” Knopp says.

“Detection of lung cancer has to be improved, and we believe that we need these focused efforts still at this time to really advance early detection methods,” he continues. “In the end, we believe the benefits of CT scanning for lung cancer will outweigh any risks of the imaging process, and we will be assessing that aspect in our studies as well.”

Elizabeth Finch


  1. Biomedical Research and Technology Transfer Trust Fund. Available at: http://www.regents.state.oh.us/brtt/.
  2. Newpoff L. Cancer treatment project gets major funding boost. Columbus Business First. Available at: http://columbus.bizjournals.com/columbus/stories/2003/11/03/story6.html.
  3. Ohio State University Center Media Room. OSU awarded $8 million to fight lung cancer. Available at: http://medicalcenter.osu.edu/mediaroom/article.cfm?ID=1492.