Teachers hold key to better cancer tests, treatments (VIDEO)

July 11, 2013 | by Hiu Chung So

Since 1995, more than 133,000 Californian teachers have contributed to one of the most powerful, ongoing epidemiological studies in cancer, appropriately named the California Teachers Study.

Using survey data and medical records of the participants, it has made numerous important discoveries linking cancer risk to lifestyle factors – including physical activity, alcohol consumption and using hormone replacement therapy.

Now, an effort funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and spearheaded at City of Hope will take this study one level beyond surveys and health records – it will start collecting blood and saliva from its participants, with the goal of identifying biomarkers tied to cancer risk. This can hopefully lead to earlier detection, better treatments and perhaps even the prevention of certain cancers.

In the video above, James V. Lacey Jr., Ph.D., associate professor at City of Hope's Division of Cancer Etiology, talks about the significance of the California Teachers Study and its next steps to collect biological samples. He is the principal investigator of a NCI-funded effort to collect more than 21,000 samples for analysis and evaluation.

“The California Teachers Study is a classic example of power in numbers,” Lacey said. “We know some biomarkers or genetic differences linked to cancers are rare; the only way to find them is to have a big study population to draw from.”

Such biomarkers can include hormones, immunity and inflammation markers, proteins and circulating tumor cells, Lacey said.

In addition to identifying new biomarkers, researchers can combine data from these samples with existing surveys and medical records to improve risk-prediction models, enhance early detection guidelines and develop novel targeted therapies.

Lacey and his team are currently beginning the sample collection process, and expect to have the first results from this new data by 2017.

Research reported in this post was supported by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health under grant number 1UM1CA164917. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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