UAMS Research Gets $1.5M FDA Grant in Search for 'Holy Grail'

UAMS Research Gets $1.5M FDA Grant in Search for 'Holy Grail'
UAMS Associate Professor Donald J. Johann Jr. received a $764,000 contract from the FDA in 2015 to conduct a similiar study on lung cancer screening. (UAMS)

Physician-scientist Dr. Donald J. Johann Jr. has received a $1.47 million Food and Drug Administration grant to continue a clinical trial related to how physicians screen for lung cancer.

Johann is an associate professor in the departments of Biomedical Informatics and Internal Medicine in the College of Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

"We're coming into the long-promised 'future' of cancer treatment," Johann said in a news release. "For the last 50 years, the holy grail of cancer research has been being able to detect the presence of cancer with a simple blood test, known as a liquid biopsy, and treat cancer patients on an individualized basis, which is precision medicine."

Johann's research covers both cancer detection and treatment. His work involves bioinformatics, a field of research that uses computational tools to assess medical and public health information to find patterns that can affect medical and public health science.

"Recent advancements in genetic sequencing technology, computational science and the ability to manage massive amounts of data have made this type of research possible," he said. "The vision is to combine the power of these approaches with clinical knowledge to improve outcomes. This is the future of cancer medicine, and it's all doable."

Johann's lung cancer work has been underway for three years. In previous phases, his team developed an advanced bioinformatics infrastructure at UAMS in order to handle the large datasets involved in this research.

Johann completed fellowships in hematology oncology and clinical proteomics, both at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. He earned his medical degree at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He became a physician as a second career — before attending medical school, he was an engineering group leader for the Unisys Corp. and worked on advanced avionics projects.