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Giving advanced lung cancer patients a better chance

10 May 2019

Lung Cancer is common in Australia and the survival rates are poor. Every day, Dr Venessa Chin faces the dilemma of deciding which patients get which therapies. 

She explains why receiving the De Angeli Cancer Research Grant from the St Vincent's Clinic Foundation enables her to combine cutting-edge technology to create an immune cell fingerprint that aims to personalise patient care and blow the lid wide open on lung cancer survival rates.

How did this research proposal come about?

Although we have some tumour markers which help us decide which treatments might be best for any given patient, these are far from perfect. Immunotherapy is an active agent in lung cancer and can be given alone, in combination with other agents including chemotherapy – all of which are exceptionally expensive.  Sadly, there are no tumour markers which help clinicians decide which management strategy is best.  I’m hoping to develop a test that uses immune cell technology to characterise a patient’s potential to respond to immunotherapy – that way clinicians can use costly immune therapies in a more economical way, and we can give patients the most effective treatment straight out of the gate.

How does immune cell sequencing work?

Single cell sequencing offers us unprecedented insight into how the tumour and immune cells react to exposure to immunotherapy – we can look at the cancer and immune cells in a patient on a cell-by-cell basis. We will characterise how the immune cells look in terms of their ability to kill cancer cells when they are taken from the patient (baseline) and then after they have been exposed to immunotherapy agents (post treatment).  I expect patients will be very individual in their baseline and post treatment immune cell profiles – just like a fingerprint.

What is the potential impact of developing an immune cell fingerprint?

This work could predict which lung cancer patients are most likely to benefit from immune therapy treatments.  Essentially, by offering the most suitable treatment options to patients at the start using this cutting edge technology will improve their survival outcomes.