A study published online in Nature Medicine outlines the work of researchers from four leading cancer centers who utilized panels of genes to predict survival of lung cancer patients.

During the study, 442 lung-cancer tissue samples from six cancer hospitals across the United States were examined. Researchers tested the cancer samples to look at the expression of hundreds of genes, and factored in clinical predictors such as tumor stage and the patients’ gender and age.

It was found that the lung cancers could be divided into groups with better and worse survival rates. This new information could help to identify when a patient should receive additional chemotherapy following surgery, an often-prescribed regimen to reduce the risk of the cancer returning.

“Gene expression is not just a black box approach—which a lot of researchers think it is. Sometimes knowing the context actually helps you use that information more efficiently,” says David Beer PhD, co-author of the study and professor of surgery and radiation oncology at the University of Michigan Medical School.

The researchers hope that these findings may one day help to develop a test that would help determine who needs more aggressive treatment.

“Our findings suggest that there is a potential for successfully predicting lung cancer prognosis based on gene expression, but it is likely to be more difficult to develop a clinically useful test than has been suggested by previous studies,” says Kerby Shedden PhD, study lead author and associate professor of statistics at the University of Michigan. “It’s going to require more assay standardization and a large prospective study to identify a signature that is ready for clinical use.”