UCLA has been awarded a $5 million federal grant to develop tools to improve early detection of lung cancer.

The UCLA School of Dentistry and the David Geffen School of Medicine on Oct. 8 announced the five-year award from the National Cancer Institute to develop liquid biopsy tools to test patients who could have lung cancer.

“The National Cancer Institute’s award moves the needle forward for oncologists and care teams who are trying to save lives,” said Dr. Denise Aberle, principal investigator for the grant and a professor of radiology at the UCLA medical school, in a statement.

Researchers aim to enroll 300 at-risk patients in a study that would test their blood and saliva using a UCLA-developed liquid biopsy known as electric field-induced release and measurement (EFIRM), which takes a biological liquid sample to detect tumor mutations.

They then hope to set up a panel of biomarkers to help identify lung cancer.

The EFIRM technology was co-invented by Dr. David Wong, principle investigator and professor of oral biology and medicine at the UCLA dental school, and Wei Liao, who founded EZLife Bio Inc., a biotech company based in Woodland Hills, to develop it.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. With a with a five-year survival rate of 18 percent, UCLA researchers say, early detection of the disease is critical.

Health business reporter Dana Bartholomew can be reached at dbartholomew@labusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @_DanaBart.

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