Lung Cancer

Current Projects
Liron Bar-Peled, PhD

High levels of oxidative stress are a hallmark of many cancers; while it has long been appreciated to be a major impediment to cancer proliferation, the molecular mechanisms underlying its role in this process remain poorly understood. Using cutting-edge proteomic techniques, Dr. Bar-Peled is investigating how cancer cells respond to oxidative stress and exploring the different signaling pathways required by cancer cells to reduce the oxidative stress burden. His research may provide therapeutic avenues for targeting certain lung cancers.

Project title: "Identification of redox vulnerabilities in genetically defined cancers"
Institution: Massachusetts General Hospital
Award Program: Innovator
Cancer Type: Lung
Research Area: Chemical Biology
Debadrita Bhattacharya, PhD

Intra-tumoral heterogeneity (ITH), or the evolution of distinct cell types within a tumor, underlies most fatal features of cancer and presents a great therapeutic challenge. Using small cell lung cancer (SCLC), a highly heterogeneous and lethal form of lung cancer, as a model, Dr. Bhattacharya will study how ITH arises during cancer progression. She will employ emerging genomics techniques to characterize the cellular subtypes that comprise SCLC tumors and identify “druggable” transcription factors which, if targeted, could reduce tumor heterogeneity in this cancer. By profiling thousands of cells from treatment-naïve and therapy-resistant tumors, Dr. Bhattacharya aims to identify the “master-regulators” of the cellular subtypes that expand upon treatment in SCLC. She will then evaluate the role of these factors in human patient-derived cell lines, with the goal of uncovering novel mechanisms underlying ITH in human cancers. Dr. Bhattacharya received her PhD from Cornell University and her BS from the University of Calcutta.

Project title: "Investigating molecular and cellular mechanisms of intra-tumoral heterogeneity in small-cell lung cancer"
Institution: Stanford University
Named Award: Robert Black Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Julien Sage, PhD
Cancer Type: Lung
Research Area: Epigenetics
Collin M. Blakely, MD, PhD

Non-small cell lung cancers are frequently driven by specific genetic alterations that can be targeted by precision medicine therapies. However, these therapies often result in partial responses, allowing some cancer cells to survive and become fully resistant to therapy. This ultimately limits patients' long-term survival. Dr. Blakely focuses on a particular type of lung cancer that is driven by mutations in the EGFR gene. This type of lung cancer frequently develops in younger patients who are non-smokers. Treatment of this disease with the targeted therapy osimertinib results in partial (incomplete) responses in the vast majority of cases. His goal is to understand why responses to this treatment are almost always incomplete, and to identify new targets for therapies to be used in combination with osimertinib. Ultimately, the goal of this research is to identify novel combination therapy strategies that can improve the depth and duration of response to targeted therapies, allowing patients to live longer.

Project title: "Mechanisms of incomplete response and primary resistance to the 3rd generation EGFR inhibitor osimertinib in lung cancer"
Institution: University of California, San Francisco
Award Program: Clinical Investigator
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Trever G. Bivona, MD, PhD
Cancer Type: Lung
Research Area: Cancer Genetics
Aleksey Chudnovskiy, PhD

Dr. Chudnovskiy studies “antigen presentation,” an immune process by which dendritic cells capture antigens at the tumor site, migrate to the tumor-draining lymph nodes, and present tumor antigens to the effector CD4 and CD8 T cells that are responsible for anti-tumor responses. This is the first crucial step in successful cancer immunotherapy.

Project title: "Defining dendritic cell-T cell interaction history within the tumor microenvironment using enzymatic labeling"
Institution: The Rockefeller University
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Gabriel D. Victora, PhD
Cancer Type: Lung, Skin
Research Area: Basic Immunology
Nicholas C. DeVito, MD

Immunotherapy has resulted in positive outcomes for patients with melanoma, lung cancer, and other malignancies; however, most patients do not have meaningful responses to this treatment strategy. Tumors that fail to respond to immunotherapy have effectively hidden themselves from detection by the host immune system. Understanding how cancers create an immune-excluded environment promises to lead to the development of more highly effective immunotherapies. Dendritic cells (DCs) play a central role in orchestrating the immune response to cancers by enabling T cells to “see” and destroy cancerous cells. Previous work has shown that melanomas secrete a protein called Wnt5a that potently suppresses DC function and ultimately contributes to the development of immunotherapy resistance. Dr. DeVito will examine certain tumor signaling pathways that have been implicated in driving Wnt5a production and facilitating cancer spreading by suppressing DC function within nearby draining lymph node tissues, which are critical for generating immune responses capable of destroying developing cancers. These studies will further investigate the ability of Wnt5a inhibition to sensitize cancers that are typically resistant to immunotherapy strategies. In addition, he is conducting a clinical trial to determine if the activation of these pathways correlates with immunotherapy failure in melanoma patients. He anticipates that better characterization of pathways that cancers utilize to suppress DC function to thus shut down the immune response will lead to the discovery of novel, more effective immunotherapy strategies, and may identify biomarkers that will improve selection of tailored immunotherapies for specific cancer patients.

Project title: "Investigating the role of EMT-mediated dendritic cell tolerization in checkpoint inhibitor resistance"
Institution: Duke University
Award Program: Physician-Scientist
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Brent A. Hanks, MD, PhD
Cancer Type: Lung, Skin
Research Area: Tumor Immunology
Luisa F. Escobar-Hoyos, PhD

Current pancreatic cancer chemotherapies are not effective, and targeted therapies are only applicable in about 5% of cases. Furthermore, pancreatic cancers cause immune cell stress, limiting the success of immunotherapies in this disease. Using animal models and tumor samples from pancreatic cancer patients, Dr. Escobar-Hoyos has discovered that changes in RNA splicing, a process that controls protein diversity in cells, are crucial for pancreatic cancer development, therapy resistance, and disruption of anti-tumor immunity. The proposed project will dissect the molecular role of RNA splicing in pancreatic cancer, which likely drives the disease's lethality. She seeks to develop a novel anti-RNA splicing therapy with dual action-a targeted therapy against tumor cells coupled with an immunotherapy to restore immune cell anti-tumor activity-to more effectively treat pancreatic cancer patients.

Project title: "Understanding RNA splicing in tumor-cell adaptation and anti-tumor immunity"
Institution: Yale University School of Medicine
Named Award: William Raveis Charitable Fund Innovator
Award Program: Innovator
Cancer Type: Breast, Lung, Pancreatic
Research Area: Cell Biology
John R. Ferrarone, MD

Adenocarcinoma is the most common type of lung cancer. Approximately 10% of patients with lung adenocarcinoma will have a tumor that simultaneously carries mutations in genes called KRAS and LKB1. Patients that have a lung cancer harboring both these mutations develop resistance to chemotherapy more rapidly, are more likely to develop brain metastases, and have a worse overall prognosis. Currently, there are no targeted therapies available for patients with this type of lung cancer. Mutations in genes like KRAS and LKB1 lead to a rewiring of normal cellular processes that results in cancer. Importantly, this rewiring also makes tumors more dependent on certain cellular functions. These functions represent cancer-specific vulnerabilities that can be targeted to disrupt tumor growth. In order to identify these vulnerabilities in lung cancers with mutations in both KRAS and LKB1, Dr. Ferrarone is utilizing the CRISPR/Cas9 DNA editing technology on a genome-wide scale. Using CRISPR, he will introduce gene “knockouts” in lung cancer cells carrying both KRAS and LKB1 mutations to see which genetic disruptions are most lethal to the cancer. Identification of the most significant tumor vulnerabilities may lead to the development of new targeted therapies to treat this type of lung cancer.

Project title: "Seeking and evaluating novel therapeutic targets in human lung adenocarcinomas with loss-of-function mutations in LKB1"
Institution: Weill Cornell Medicine
Named Award: Lee Cooperman Physician-Scientist
Award Program: Physician-Scientist
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Harold E. Varmus, MD
Cancer Type: Lung
Research Area: Cell Biology
Siting Gan, PhD

Dr. Gan focuses on brain metastasis in lung and breast cancer, a major cause of death for these patients. She is applying the latest single-cell technologies and developing computational tools to dissect how tumor cells interact with resident brain cells to mediate the progression of metastasis. This research aims to better understand the formation of brain metastasis which may lead to new therapeutic strategies for prevention.

Dr. Gan is developing computational methods to leverage the approximate spatial information of whether a brain cell is near a metastatic tumor cell and coarse tumor progression indicators, such as the postinoculation time and whole-brain ex vivo bioluminescence signal to infer the trajectories of phenotypic states in each type of cell. She is applying these methods to examine how the different populations of cells influence each other to co-evolve along their respective trajectories.

Project title: "In situ single-cell dissection of the tumor-microenvironment interplay mediating brain metastasis"
Institution: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Award Program: Quantitative Biology Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Joan Massagué, PhD, and Dana Pe'er, PhD
Cancer Type: Brain, Breast, Lung
Research Area: Systems Biology
Eric E. Gardner, PharmD, PhD

Dr. Gardner is studying acquired resistance to targeted therapies in lung cancer. Many targeted therapies used in cancer treatment are capable of controlling disease for a period of time, but in most cases, the disease finds a way to resist or adapt. For instance, some patients treated with epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) inhibitors for adenocarcinoma develop resistance to this class of drugs when their cancer transforms to small cell lung cancer (SCLC). Dr. Gardner is investigating this process using both human and mouse models of lung cancer to identify therapeutic approaches that may treat, prevent, or reverse this type of acquired resistance.

Project title: "Interrogating lung adenocarcinoma transformation to small cell lung cancer at single cell resolution"
Institution: Weill Cornell Medicine
Named Award: Kenneth G. and Elaine A. Langone Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Harold E. Varmus, MD
Cancer Type: Lung, All Cancers
Research Area: Carcinogenesis
Chengcheng Jin, PhD

Dr. Jin's research focuses on the interaction between the nervous system and the immune system in cancer, with a particular focus on the crosstalk between the sensory neurons and the tumor microenvironment (TME) in lung cancer. While nerves have long been viewed as passive bystanders in cancer, solid tumors are innervated by distinct branches of the nervous system that respond to internal and environmental stimuli. However, it remains poorly understood how the nervous system regulates tumor-associated immune cells, and what factors in the TME shape tumor innervation and neuro-immune interactions. Dr. Jin will combine genetically engineered mouse models with diverse approaches in cellular immunology, cancer genetics, and functional manipulations of neuronal circuits to elucidate the molecular and cellular mechanism of neuro-immune crosstalk in the lung TME, and to explore how we can target specific neural pathways to improve cancer immunotherapy.

Project title: "Investigating neuro-immune interaction in lung cancer"
Institution: University of Pennsylvania
Award Program: Innovator
Cancer Type: Lung
Research Area: Tumor Immunology
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