Lung Cancer

Current Projects
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 [Robert Black Fellow] 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
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 [William Raveis Charitable Fund Innovator] 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. She plans to 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: Cancer Genetics
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
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
Xiuning Le, MD, PhD

Mutations in the EGFR gene were identified as the first targetable mutations in lung cancer about two decades ago. Since then, multiple targeted therapies have been approved and prolonged many lives. However, about 15% of EGFR mutations are atypical and do not have a current approved targeted therapy. Dr. Le is leading multiple clinical trials to address this unmet need. With new treatments potentially entering the clinic, new mechanisms of treatment resistance will likely evolve. Dr. Le aims to comprehensively characterize resistance mechanisms and compare resistance predisposition across different types of EGFR-linked lung cancers. She will leverage cutting-edge techniques to determine the mutations at single-cell level and develop rational therapeutic strategies to overcome resistance. This project has the potential not only to bring new FDA-approved treatments to patients but also establish clinical strategies to predict and target major resistance mechanisms.

Project title: "Structure- and lineage-based classification and targeting of resistance in EGFR-mutant NSCLC"
Institution: The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Award Program: Clinical Investigator
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): John V. Heymach, MD, PhD
Cancer Type: Lung
Research Area: Cancer Genetics
Tadashi Manabe, MD, PhD

Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer mortality. Substantial breakthrough discoveries, including the identification of lung cancer-specific genetic drivers (e.g., EGFR mutations, EML4-ALK fusion genes) and the development of molecular inhibitors of these pathogenic factors, have improved outcomes for patients with advanced-stage lung cancer. However, lung cancer cells eventually acquire resistance to these molecular inhibitors, resulting in progressive disease. Dr. Manabe’s [Connie and Bob Lurie Fellow] research focuses on protein compounds formed by the self-assembly of oncogenic fusion proteins such as EML4-ALK. These compounds initiate a signaling pathway that causes abnormal cell proliferation in cancer. Dr. Manabe will explore the newly discovered structures of signaling proteins with the goal of developing molecular therapies that enhance precision medicine strategies and improve the control of lung cancer. Dr. Manabe received both his MD and PhD from Keio University School of Medicine.

Project title: "Characterization of oncogenic kinase signaling by membraneless cytoplasmic protein granules"
Institution: University of California, San Francisco
Named Award: Connie and Bob Lurie Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Trever G. Bivona, MD, PhD
Cancer Type: Lung
Research Area: Signal Transduction
Vitor Mori, PhD

New technologies developed in the last decade have enabled chemotherapy to be delivered directly to lung tumors intratumorally in contrast to systemic delivery that affects the whole body. Recent studies have shown a partial or complete response ratio of 71% with significantly fewer side effects for patients treated intratumorally with cisplatin. Dr. Mori is modeling cisplatin pharmacodynamics following injections, taking into consideration the heterogeneity of the tumor microenvironment. This research aims to optimize drug delivery strategy to enhance targeting tumor cells while reducing side effects. 

Using segmented high-resolution CT images, Dr. Mori assigns a set of features to each voxel of the tumor (diffusivity, clearance rate, and intracellular threshold concentration needed to induce cell apoptosis). He then simulates the competing physical mechanisms inside the tumor to assess the total tumor volume with an intracellular concentration above the threshold to estimate the minimal required dose based on the tumor morphology and the number of injections. The model is implemented using MatLab.

Project title: "EBUS-TBNI of cisplatin optimization in heterogeneous lung tumors"
Institution: University of Vermont
Award Program: Quantitative Biology Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Jason H.T. Bates, PhD, DSc, and C. Matthew Kinsey, MD
Cancer Type: Kidney and Bladder, Lung
Research Area: Biomedical Engineering
Aaron L. Moye, PhD

Dr. Moye is studying early-stage lung cancer. Specifically, he is investigating the cell-to-cell cross talk between lung cancer cells and their surrounding microenvironment and how this cellular communication promotes early-stage lung cancer initiation and progression. Dr. Moye aims to discover secreted factors that can be used in diagnosis and to identify new targets for drug development that interfere with the lung cancer microenvironment.

Project title: "Role of Lgr6-expressing mesenchymal cells in lung cancer initiation and progression"
Institution: Boston Children's Hospital
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Carla F. Kim, PhD
Cancer Type: Lung
Research Area: Cancer Genetics
Matthew G. Oser, MD, PhD

Although small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is initially highly responsive to chemotherapy, the disease recurs in nearly all patients in less than a year. There are currently no approved targeted therapies for when the cancer returns. Previous studies have demonstrated that SCLCs require sustained neuroendocrine differentiation for survival, suggesting that targeting this process could be a good therapeutic strategy. Dr. Oser will use SCLC patient-derived xenograft models and a novel SCLC genetically engineered mouse model to identify new enzymes required for neuroendocrine differentiation and to develop targeted therapies that can block this process. He aims to identify molecular targets that could be developed into new lasting therapies for SCLC patients.

Project title: "Dissecting and therapeutically exploiting synthetic lethality between NOTCH and TRIM28 to drive anti-tumor immunity in SCLC"
Institution: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Award Program: Clinical Investigator
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): William G. Kaelin, Jr., MD
Cancer Type: Lung
Research Area: Experimental Therapeutics
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