New frontiers in immunotherapy for lung cancer

Immunotherapy stimulates or suppresses the immune system to help the body fight cancer, infection, and other diseases. In 2020, Dr Venessa Chin initiated a research project to explore how single cell profiling can help uncover new biology and guide clinical management of people with lung cancer.

The broad aims of the research are to improve understanding of how inherited factors may lead to a non-smoker developing lung cancer, and to detect cancer cells that are likely to be resistant to therapy prior to its commencement.

Dr Chin’s work uses cellular genomics, or single cell sequencing, to determine which lung cancer patients will respond best to immunotherapy.

“Currently, immunotherapy is costly and not well-understood, so it is often the last line of defence recommended for people with end-stage cancer. Our long-term ambition is to be able to identify which patients will benefit from immunotherapy and ensure they can commence treatment sooner”.

In recent months, Dr Chin has discovered that the interleukin 1 Beta gene presents differently in analysis of people with cancer, providing a new avenue for targeted treatment options. This correlates with a UK study demonstrating that non-smoking lung cancer can be caused by exposure to pollution. Because of these findings, Dr Chin can now embark on a new phase of the research aiming to demonstrate that exposure to pollution will cause different responses in some people because of their genetic predisposition.

Dr Chin has assembled a large number of blood samples that have been collected at the NELUNE Cancer Centre during immunotherapy treatment. This liquid biopsy cohort can form the basis for a number of new research studies, opening up new frontiers of discovery to improve the outcomes for people living with cancer.

Dr Venessa Chin’s research is supported by Cure Cancer Australia, which funds early career cancer researchers, and we are also very grateful to Dr John and Anne Chong whose generous support helps make these investigations possible.