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Alice Berger, PhD

LCFA Class of 2017

Lung Cancer in women who have never smoked is the focus of the study proposed by Dr. Alice Berger, a translational researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center  which was chosen to receive the 2017 LCFA/IASLC Lori Monroe Scholarship for Translational Lung Cancer Research.

She will use the scholarship to perform genome sequencing on lung tumors found in women with no history of smoking who participated in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI). The WHI, coordinated by Fred Hutchinson Cancer in Seattle, WA, is one of the largest U.S. prevention studies of its kind, involving more than 161,000 women.

Berger will conduct the research in collaboration with Dr. Garnet Anderson, principal investigator of the WHI Clinical Coordinating Center, senior vice president and director of the Public Health Sciences Division and Fred Hutch 40th Anniversary Endowed Chair.

According to Berger, previous genetic studies of lung cancer have focused mainly on tumors from people with a history of smoking; the largest study of never-smokers to date has included only 33 participants.

“In the small number of tumors from never-smokers who have been profiled, we can see that the genetic changes in never-smokers are very different from that of smokers,” said Berger, a researcher in the Hutch’s Human Biology and Public Health Sciences divisions.



LCFA funds researchers who are early in their careers in an attempt to keep them in the field of lung cancer and to help them to be attractive candidates for even larger research grants from entities such as the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

One of LCFA’s funded researchers, Dr. Alice Berger, is a perfect example. In 2017, Alice has received a research grant from LCFA and has used those grant funds to amass the data necessary to present to the NCI for further funding. Recently, Alice was chosen as a recipient of a NCI MERIT (Method for Extending Research in Time) award which extends her funding for 7 years.GIVE HOPE

Lung Cancer in Never-Smoking Women

“The goal of this project is to identify new potential drug targets in lung cancer and to better understand the etiology of lung cancer in patients without a smoking history,” she said.

LCFA Grant is Like a Catalyst

Dr. Berger’s hope is to find more “targets” for additional personalized treatments for lung cancer. Find out more on personalized medicine for lung cancer. And, download LCFA’s Personalized Medicine Brochure.

Genomic Characterization of Lung Cancer in Never-Smokers

1 year Progress Report from Dr. Alice Berger

The proportion of lung cancers that occur in people that have never smoked is increasing. Women are particularly affected; In 2016, 24% of lung cancer cases in women were diagnosed in ‘never-smokers,’ individuals that have smoked less than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime. Despite the prevalence of lung cancer in never-smokers, previous genome sequencing studies of lung cancers have predominantly analyzed tumors from smokers, yet it is these studies that have discovered the most clinically important targets in lung cancer such as EGFR mutations and ALK fusion genes. Genome studies of never-smokers have typically focused only these already known genetic alterations, so we are completely blind to other genetic events that might contribute to disease in never-smokers. The goal of this work is to apply unbiased, genome-wide sequencing to identify genetic alterations in lung cancers from never-smokers. The project is the launch of a unique collaboration between my lab and the Women’s Health Initiative. The Women’s Health Initiative has led a decades-spanning study involving over 160,000 post-menopausal women. An overview of our study is shown in the figure below.

Data from Alice Berger's Women's Health Initiative ProjectIn the past year, we have met a number of critical milestones on our way to completing the project. First, we secured institutional review board (IRB) approval to work with these human specimens and approval from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) steering committee that oversees the Women’s Health Initiative. Second, we have received tissue from 106 of the 130 participants requested for this study. Third, all tissue has undergone molecular review and imaging in the laboratory of Dr. Peggy Porter (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center). 99/106 of these cases had sufficient material for DNA extraction. DNA from the first 19 individuals was sent to the Dana-Farber Center for Cancer Genome Discovery in January, and initial sequencing data is  expected back imminently. Another 77 samples have been sent for sectioning and DNA extraction and are expected to be sent for sequencing in the next 4-6 weeks.

Last, an exciting outcome of our funding support from the LCFA/IASLC has been our ability to secure additional funding to complete the sequencing proposed in this study. We were recently funded by the Prevent Cancer Foundation ($100,000) to sequence additional samples and focus on understanding the underlying environmental causes that might contribute to lung cancer in these individuals. We also secured an additional $100,000 from the Seattle Translational Tumor Research program to perform sequencing of samples at Fred Hutch and contribute our data to a new genomics repository aimed at managing the data privacy and sharing with the most current technologies and permissions. We are very grateful for the support and vision of the LCFA/IASLC in enabling us to launch this project and the catalytic effect the support has had on our project and lab.

Complete list of published works