Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in New South Wales. This means that 1 in every 16 adults in New South Wales will be diagnosed with this cancer.  Lung cancer also has one of the lowest survival rates of all cancers, with only 15% of patients surviving for five years following their diagnosis. Our lung cancer projects in the Bill Walsh Lab focus on understanding the cancer at a molecular level to improve disease detection, personalise treatment to the patient, or improve treatment efficacy.

  1. Investigating patterns of drug resistance in ALK rearranged non-small cell lung cancer.

Dr Malinda Itchins, Dr Sarah Hayes, Dr Amanda Hudson,  Prof. Stephen Clarke, Dr Chee Lee,  A/Prof Nick Pavlakis, and A/Prof Viive Howell

This is a largely non-smoking related lung cancer, characterised by a change to the ALK gene, often affecting a young and fit population. It behaves very differently to smoking related lung cancers and whilst very treatable with targeted therapy, resistance to such treatment is inevitable often through the development of kinase domain mutations.

Work is being done in the laboratory treating ALK rearranged drug resistant cell lines with alternating next generation drug therapy and assessing any change in mutational profile. This laboratory-based research is identifying the optimal ways in which to sequence different cancer treatments in order to delay or overcome the development of resistance, with the ultimate goal of being able to apply the insights gained in the laboratory to ALK patient care.

Funding: NSW Health PhD Scholarship, 2017 and 2018 Sydney Vital Research Scholar Awards, Ilse Schnell Cancer Research Postgraduate Scholarship

2. Identification of biomarkers for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Dr Sarah Hayes, Mrs Rozelle Harvie, Dr Amanda Hudson, Prof Stephen Clarke, A/Prof Nick Pavlakis and A/Prof Viive Howell

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in men and women and a leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. We are investigating whether certain tumour-specific molecular characteristics can be detected in minimally invasive samples, like blood, tissue biopsies or exhaled breath. We are ultimately hoping that this research can be used to assist in the earlier diagnosis of patients, prediction of patient prognosis or to help guide personalised cancer treatment selection.

Funding: 2018 Tour de Cure Scott Canner Early Career Fellowship, Fight for a Cure Early Career Fellowship, Cancer Institute NSW Early Career Fellowship

3. The exhaled breath condensate proteome: a promising source of biomarkers for lung cancer

Dr Sarah Hayes, Prof Stephen Clarke, A/Prof Nick Pavlakis, A/Prof Viive Howell

In recent years, there has been increasing interest in using exhaled breath as a tool for screening, diagnosing, and even monitoring diseases of the airway, including lung cancer. Changes in specific proteins found in exhaled breath of lung cancer patients may be an indication of the underlying cancer, presenting a potential screening technique for early detection of this disease. In this project, we are using cutting-edge mass spectrometry to comprehensively map proteins found in human breath from lung cancer patients to identify these proteins. This is the first time ever that the human lung cancer breath proteome (which we have termed the “breathome”) has been profiled by mass spectrometry.

Funding:  2018 Tour de Cure Scott Canner Early Career Fellowship, Fight for a Cure Early Career Fellowship, The Balnaves Foundation/Sydney Medical School  Early Career Researcher grant

4. Chemotherapy resistance in non-small cell lung cancer

Dr Simon Haefliger – In collaboration with Bill Walsh Lab researchers: Dr Amanda Hudson, A/Prof Nick Pavlakis, A/Prof Viive Howell

Cancer stem cells are thought to be in part responsible for cancer recurrence and therapy failure. They are highly resistant against chemotherapy and radiotherapy. We are investigating mechanisms of chemotherapy resistance in this specific cell population in lung cancer. Our goal is to identify and target currently unknown molecular pathways involved in cancer stem cell function, ultimately leading to development of more effective therapeutic strategies.

5. Exploring the molecular basis of brain metastases in patients with non-small cell lung cancer in order to identify better therapeutic strategies.

A/Prof Nick Pavlakis, A/Prof Viive Howell, Dr Emily Colvin, Dr Fatemeh Vafaee (Charles Perkins Centre, University of Sydney)

Brain metastases are common in patients with lung cancer, and the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in these patients. We aim to explore how different genetic alterations allow some lung tumours to spread to the brain and evade therapeutic attack whilst others are incapable of brain invasion or are sensitive to current treatment strategies.

Funding: Donations to the Bill Walsh Cancer Research Fund

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