You are here: Home / About Us / News and Media / 2008 News / Research uncovers genetic link to lung cancer

Research uncovers genetic link to lung cancer

April 3, 2008 – An international study has uncovered, for the first time, an important genetic region associated with lung cancer risk. As published in the April 3, 2008 edition of scientific journal Nature, results show that chromosome 15 is associated with lung cancer, and provides new clues on how smoking tobacco can cause this cancer.

Rayjean Hung

Dr. Rayjean Hung


Dr. Rayjean Hung, first author of the Nature paper and principal investigator with the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital, conducted the genome-wide scan of 2,000 patients with lung cancer and 2,600 people without the disease to seek genetic variants thought to be associated with lung cancer. A further 5,000 patient samples were then used to confirm the findings.

“Lung cancer continues to be the most common cancer in Canada and survival rates remain low,” said Dr. Hung. “This new information could lead to possibilities of new prevention strategies and therapeutic targets at early stages.” This is the largest genetic study of lung cancer ever conducted.

Within the genomic region that Hung and colleagues studied, several genes interact with nicotine and other tobacco toxins, called nicotinic acetylcholine receptor genes. These receptor genes are thought to be related to tobacco dependence.

“This research project has been a very valuable global effort and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) is pleased to have had the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues in genomic agencies in France, the United Kingdom, the United States and Ontario,” said Dr. Tom Hudson, President and Scientific Director of OICR. The Institute’s $750,000 contribution covered the genotyping cost of samples from Ontario residents. 

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death worldwide with more than 1 million cases diagnosed annually. In 2008, it is projected 64,447 people in Ontario will be diagnosed with lung cancer and 26,581 people will die of the disease.

“This is an exciting breakthrough for understanding the genetic basis for lung cancer and underscores the importance of international collaboration and the benefits of applying powerful new scientific tools in solving important health problems,” says Dr. John McLaughlin, who is Vice-President of Population Studies and Surveillance at Cancer Care Ontario, a Senior Investigator at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute and co-author of the study. “This project is an outstanding example of what can be accomplished and demonstrates one of the aspirations outlined in the recently released Ontario Cancer Plan, whereby we aim to strengthen Ontario's international leadership in research that leads to important new discoveries and the application of new knowledge to improve cancer prevention and cancer control.”

“Our government is proud to have created OICR and committed $347 million to its invaluable work, which is already leading to the discovery of important new clues and approaches to treating cancer,” said Minister of Research and Innovation John Wilkinson.  “We’re also proud that 1,200 Ontarians participated in this project and that the lead author of the study has now joined the growing number of world-class researchers living and working in Ontario.”

The Toronto component of this international collaboration was supported in part by a grant from the National Cancer Institute of Canada with funds from the Canadian Cancer Society.

About the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital

The Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital, a University of Toronto affiliated research centre, established in 1985, is one of the world’s leading centres in biomedical research. 32 principal investigators lead research in diabetes, cancer biology, epidemiology, stem cell research, women’s and infants’ health, neurobiology and systems biology. For more information on the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute, please visit

About Cancer Care Ontario

Cancer Care Ontario continually improves cancer services so that fewer people get cancer and patients receive better care.

About the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research

The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research is a centre of excellence, moving Ontario to the forefront of discovery and innovation. It is dedicated to research in prevention, early detection, diagnosis, treatment and control of cancer. OICR is a not-for-profit corporation funded by the Government of Ontario through the Ministry of Research and Innovation. For more information on the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, please visit


Note to media:

“A susceptibility locus for lung cancer maps to nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunit genes on 15q25” – Rayjean J Hung et al. April 3, 2008. Nature

Dr. Hung joined the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital in December 2007 following her contract as Visiting Scientist at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France.

To arrange an interview, or receive a copy of the paper, please contact:

Jennifer Obeid

Sr. Manager Media Relations
Cancer Care Ontario
416 971-9800 x 3383

Rhea Cohen
Director of Communications
Ontario Institute for Cancer Research
Mobile: 416-671-2846