Lung Cancer

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In collaboration with medical oncologists Associate Professor Nick Pavlakis, Professor Stephen Clarke, Dr Malinda Itchins and others, our lung cancer research is aimed at improving treatment and diagnosis of lung cancer.

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.

Lung cancer is the 4th most commonly diagnosed cancer in NSW

Lung cancer is most common cause of cancer-related death worldwide

1 in 16 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer by 85 years of age

Lung Cancer Research Group Leader: Dr Sarah Hayes

Dr Hayes is a Post-doctoral Research Fellow whose research achievements have been recognised by a Cancer Institute NSW Research Scholar Award and Cancer Institute NSW Early Career Fellowship. Her expertise is in proteomics and a major focus of her research is the identification and verification of protein biomarkers for lung diagnosis, prognosis and response to treatment.  Her work is contributing to the growing field of research into personalised medicine and to our understanding of the effect of molecular cancer pathogenesis on 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, 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.

Work is being done in the Bill Walsh Lab treating ALK drug resistant cell lines with alternating next generation drug therapy and assessing any change in their molecular profile. We want to identify the optimal method 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 lab to ALK patient care.

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

2. Exploring methods to improve efficacy of immunotherapy in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)

Dr Sarah Hayes, Dr Malmaruha Arasaratnam, Dr Kelly McKelvey, A/Prof Viive Howell and A/Prof Nick Pavlakis

Our research project is exploring methods to improve effectiveness of immune therapy in lung cancer. We will be looking to identify if there are proteins secreted in blood that can predict which patients respond well to immunotherapy and which do not benefit from this type of treatment. Using cutting-edge technologies, we hope to identify those key proteins that can help us to personalise patient treatments based on their molecular profile.

Funding: 2019 Ramsay Healthcare Research and Teaching Seed Funding

3. 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

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 and 2018 Fight for a Cure Early Career Fellowship

4. Chemotherapy resistance in non-small cell lung cancer

Dr Simon Haefliger – In collaboration with Bill Walsh Lab researchers: Dr Sarah Hayes, 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. 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 and a 2018 Fight for a Cure Early Career Fellowship

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