CWRU and UH Researchers Secure $4 Million in NCI Funding to Investigate Relationships between HIV and Lung Cancer in East Africa

Cleveland—Researchers with the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center (UHCMC) have secured $4 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)/National Cancer Institute (NCI) to establish an HIV-associated Malignancy Research Center (HAMRC) focused on lung cancer in East Africa. 

The team will collaborate with Ugandan and Tanzanian researchers at the Joint Clinical Research Centre in Kampala, Makerere University Lung Institute, Uganda Cancer Institute, Mulago National Hospital, National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), Muhumbili National Hospital and the Ocean Road Cancer Institute. The HAMRC will investigate novel approaches to characterize lung cancer epidemiology, somatic mutation burden, HIV and accelerated aging, and radiological features of lung cancer and the relationship to HIV-1 infection.

The focus of this new research center includes establishing national lung cancer diagnostic referral networks in Uganda and Tanzania, teleradiology telepathology, technology transference and training of early career investigators and personnel.

This cross-continental effort is led by Robert A. Salata, MD, Case Western Reserve/UHCMC; Stan Gerson, MD, Case Western Reserve; Bruce Kirenga, MD, Makerere University Lung Institute; and Sayoki Mfinanga, MD, PhD of the National Institute for Medical Research, Muhimbili Centre, Tanzania. The CCCC, which has a history of coordinating large, multi-institution projects, will provide administrative support, while the Joint Clinical Research Centre is the central site of research activity.

This five-year effort will take a comprehensive approach to better define the genetic and molecular determinants of lung cancer and how they impact—or are impacted by— HIV, a condition prevalent in these countries. This research aims to develop diagnostic computational imaging algorithms to discern lung cancer from other types of respiratory infections—especially tuberculosis, which is frequent in these African countries among patients with and without HIV.

The HAMRC will harness Case Western Reserve’s Center for Computational Imaging and Personalized Diagnostics (CCIPD) expertise in artificial intelligence (AI) to study lung cancer and the relationship to HIV-1 infection using radiological scans.

“We know from prior research that there are correlations between HIV and higher rates of lung cancer, and we hypothesize that HIV with its immunosuppression contributes to premature immunological aging, a known risk factor for lung cancer,” said Salata, chair of Case Western Reserve’s Department of Medicine and program director of the UH Roe Green Center for Travel Medicine & Global Health. “We will use advanced imaging capabilities coupled with novel AI and computational approaches to support accurate and timely diagnosis.”

Case Western Reserve and Makerere University have forged a research collaboration for 32 years, resulting in breakthroughs in characterizing the epidemiology and molecular-level mechanisms of conditions including tuberculosis, HIV and various forms of cancer.   

“Collaborations like this one are part of the global priorities of the National Cancer Institute to advance the global medical community’s understanding of the interrelations between complex diseases and cancer, and how to treat them appropriately,” said Gerson, CCCC director and interim dean of the School of Medicine. “While our focus for this series of projects is on the inter-relatedness of HIV, including increased risks for cancer, we anticipate that findings will inform diagnostic capabilities and personalized treatment for many types of cancer that present uniquely or that are accelerated in immunocompromised patients.”

Kirenga, director and pulmonologist at the Makerere University Lung Institute, and Mfinanga, NIMR director, have worked together on various large-scale, multi-country projects since 2009, notably on tuberculosis, which has informed the global community’s understanding of this and other infectious disease. 

“This collaboration with CWRU and the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center builds on decades of relationships that have advanced understanding worldwide about diseases that do not recognize maps and borders,” Kirenga said. “The global community of cancer and infectious disease translational researchers recognize the importance of deepening our understanding of how complex conditions inform one another. This collaboration builds on a history of work that has resulted in better diagnostics and treatment for many conditions that touch thousands of lives worldwide.”

Research team leadership includes: Anant Madabhushi, PhD, director of CCIPD, Donnell Institute Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Case Western Reserve; Afshin Dowlati, MD, professor of medicine, Case Western Reserve, director, Thoracic Oncology Program, University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center; Joseph Willis, MD, professor of medicine, Case Western Reserve, vice chairman, Pathology for Translational Research, University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center; Simon Kasasa, PhD, senior lecturer of epidemiology and biostatistics, Makerere University. 

About Case Western Reserve University

Case Western Reserve University is one of the country’s leading private research institutions. Located in Cleveland, we offer a unique combination of forward-thinking educational opportunities in an inspiring cultural setting. Our leading-edge faculty engage in teaching and research in a collaborative, hands-on environment. Our nationally recognized programs include arts and sciences, dental medicine, engineering, law, management, medicine, nursing and social work. About 5,100 undergraduate and 6,700 graduate students comprise our student body. Visit case.edu to see how Case Western Reserve thinks beyond the possible.

About the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center

Case Comprehensive Cancer Center is an NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center located at Case Western Reserve University. The center, which has been continuously funded since 1987, integrates the cancer research activities of the largest biomedical research and health care institutions in Ohio –Case Western Reserve, University Hospitals and Cleveland Clinic. NCI-designated cancer centers are characterized by scientific excellence and the capability to integrate a diversity of research approaches to focus on the problem of cancer. It is led by Stanton Gerson, MD, interim dean of the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, Asa and Patricia Shiverick-Jane Shiverick (Tripp) Professor of Hematological Oncology, and director of the National Center for Regenerative Medicine. case.edu/cancer.

About University Hospitals

Founded in 1866, University Hospitals serves the needs of patients through an integrated network of 18 hospitals, more than 50 health centers and outpatient facilities, and 200 physician offices in 16 counties throughout northern Ohio. The system’s flagship academic medical center, University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, located in Cleveland’s University Circle, is affiliated with Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. The main campus also includes University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, ranked among the top children’s hospitals in the nation; University Hospitals MacDonald Women’s Hospital, Ohio’s only hospital for women; University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute, a high-volume national referral center for complex cardiovascular procedures; and University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center, part of the NCI-designated Case Comprehensive Cancer Center. UH is home to some of the most prestigious clinical and research programs in the nation, including cancer, pediatrics, women’s health, orthopedics, radiology, neuroscience, cardiology and cardiovascular surgery, digestive health, transplantation and urology. UH Cleveland Medical Center is perennially among the highest performers in national ranking surveys, including “America’s Best Hospitals” from U.S. News & World Report. UH is also home to Harrington Discovery Institute at University Hospitals – part of The Harrington Project for Discovery & Development. UH is one of the largest employers in Northeast Ohio with 28,000 physicians and employees. Advancing the Science of Health and the Art of Compassion is UH’s vision for benefitting its patients into the future, and the organization’s unwavering mission is To Heal. To Teach. To Discover. Follow UH on LinkedInFacebook @UniversityHospitals and Twitter @UHhospitals. For more information, visit UHhospitals.org.