ABOVE: Stephen Huff’s family members, including mother-in-law Betsy Acker and mother Sandy Shwab, joined board members Stephen Huff, Emily Huff and Matt Huff to present the check to Dr. Stephen Deppen at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center on January 24. // SUBMITTED
VANDERBILT-INGRAM CANCER CENTER
A Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center research team will move forward with the testing phases of a project that will aid in the detection and diagnosis of lung cancer
without requiring a surgical biopsy, thanks to a $25,000 gift from The Huff Project, founded by lung cancer patient and Williamson County resident Stephen Huff and his wife, Emily.
In collaboration with Huff’s oncologist, Leora Horn, MD, MSc, The Huff Project board reviewed and selected from three research proposals presented by work groups associated with Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. They chose to fund “Cancer or Fungus? Avoiding Unnecessary Surgeries of Lung Nodules Suspicious for Cancer,” which is being investigated by Stephen Deppen, PhD, and Eric Grogan, MD, MPH. The grant provides critical bridge funding.
“This Huff Project gift will bring us one step closer to validating exciting noninvasive blood biomarker tests to diagnose lung cancer early and minimize harm,” said Deppen, an assistant professor in the Department of Thoracic Surgery and Division of Epidemiology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “Without their gracious support, the multi-institutional validation would not be possible. Completion of this project will allow us to bring a combination of blood tests to the bedside for use in patients with lung nodules and diagnose cancer at a curable stage and not harm patients with indolent infections.”
The Huff Project was founded in 2018, a few months after Stephen Huff, a Williamson County native and Centennial High School teacher, was diagnosed at age 29 with inoperable stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer caused by a rare genetic mutation. A nonsmoker and former professional baseball player, Huff founded the nonprofit with his wife to eliminate the stigma of the disease and raise money to fund research that will help others in the future.
“I have been fortunate to have been a candidate for targeted therapy that has allowed me to enjoy life with few side effects since my diagnosis,” Huff said. “We are proud to know that our gift will help further the development of noninvasive early detection and treatment options for other lung cancer patients just like me.”
Deppen and Grogan have partnered with Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Kentucky to test patients with histoplasmosis, a common lung infection in the central U.S. that can create nodules in the lung that often mimic lung cancer and require a biopsy to determine a diagnosis. Unlike biopsies of the breast, colon, and prostate, the lung is difficult to access and complications from an operation can be life-threatening. To avoid performing unnecessary lung biopsies without also missing a possible curable lung cancer, Deppen and Grogan are currently verifying their early positive results of two blood tests — one for histoplasmosis and one for lung cancer — in patients across three states.
The Huff Project gift provides a critical spark for the development of a research initiative with the opportunity to improve outcomes for patients by improving lung cancer diagnostics and preventing unnecessary, expensive and potentially harmful tests. Seed capital for high-risk, high-reward lung cancer research has the added benefit of enabling Vanderbilt-Ingram researchers to compete for additional follow-up funding, thereby potentially multiplying the impact of The Huff Project’s initial gift.
Huff’s family members, including mother-in-law Betsy Acker and mother Sandy Shwab, joined board members Stephen Huff, Emily Huff and Matt Huff to present the check to Dr. Stephen Deppen at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center on January 24. To learn more about The Huff Project, go to www.thehuffproject.com.
Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center is one of just two National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in Tennessee. As a nonprofit organization,
Vanderbilt-Ingram relies on philanthropic support to advance its mission. Tennessee is one of seven contiguous states with the nation’s highest death rates from cancer. For more information, visit vicc.org.