Vander Weg, Grumbach receive cancer center pilot grants

A recent story in The Loop revealed that two of the four one-year, $100k Mezhir grants from the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center will go to Internal Medicine members. These pilot grants are named in memory of James Mezhir, a surgical oncologist who passed away in 2016.

Mark Vander Weg, PhD, associate professor in General Internal Medicine, received aVanderWeg~Mark grant for his project, “Risk Communication using Novel Biomarkers to Facilitate Smoking Cessation in Patients Undergoing Lung Cancer Screening.” Vander Weg plans to investigate the impact of providing people with the individual health outcomes of lung cancer rather than the average levels of risk.

“Our study is focused on how to best communicate information about health risks to cigarette smokers who are undergoing lung cancer screening,” Vander Weg said. “Although some smokers quit smoking in the context of lung cancer screening, efforts to increase smoking cessation rates in this setting have so far been disappointing.”

Vander Weg says people experience a “teachable moment” during their lung cancer screenings. For people with lung cancer, coming face-to-face with their illness causes them to reshape their view on smoking. For Vander Weg’s study, visual assessments, cognitive interviews, and online survey-based experiements will be used to complete the analysis. The participants will view a CT scanning and pulmonary function test and share their emotional responses, understanding of risks, and motivation to quit smoking.

“We hope that our study will provide important insights about the types of personalized information about risk that is most impactful, as well as how we can present and communicate that information in a way that will motivate patients to make positive health behavior changes,” Vander Weg said. “Findings will have important implications for patients who are at increased risk for cancer and other adverse health outcomes because of their smoking, as well as those who are engaging in other potentially harmful health behaviors.”

Isabella Grumbach, MD, PhD, professor in Cardiovascular Medicine, earned a Grumbachgrant for her project “Radiation Exposure and Cardiac Arrhythmias: Mechanisms and Mitigation.”

Grumbach’s project is split into three parts. Her team will start by finding the common abnormities following radiation therapy using a Medicare database. Using the large collection of data, Grumbach will then determine the types of heart abnormalities in these patients before and after treatment. The study then will wrap up with an inspection of molecular mechanisms of arrhythmias following chest radiation in mice models.

“[The study] will potentially benefit the cancer survivors, in particular with esophageal and lung cancer, who have radiation therapy to the chest,” Grumbach said. “We believe that they are at a higher risk of developing heart rhythm abnormalities.”

According to Grumbach, past prognoses did not address this possible problem, but her team predicts that a rising survival rate will allow the issue to gain clinical relevance now.


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