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24 Feb 2020

Dr Venessa Chin receives Lung Foundation fellowship

Garvan’s Dr Venessa Chin has received a two-year Lung Foundation fellowship to undertake research to change the management of lung cancer.

Dr Venessa Chin, Research Officer in the Single Cell and Computational Genomics Laboratory at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and Medical Oncologist at St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney, has received a prestigious Lung Foundation fellowship, to progress her pioneering lung cancer research.

Announced on 20 February at a gala dinner in Melbourne, the $320,000 funding over two years will give Dr Chin the opportunity to employ Garvan’s state-of-the-art cellular genomics technology to develop a diagnostic tool that will change the management of lung cancers.

“As a clinician I see a need for tools that will give us a better indication of which patients are likely to benefit from immunotherapy,” says Dr Chin. “Through this fellowship, I hope to develop such a tool and make a significant impact on patient outcomes.”

Improving lung cancer therapy

Immunotherapy is a cancer treatment designed to activate the immune system to better target a tumour. But not all patients respond well to this therapy and there are no tests currently available to predict which patients will respond, and which will not.

In lung cancer, less than 50% of patients respond well to immunotherapy and a test to predict which patients will benefit from the treatment is urgently needed, says Dr Chin.

Using cellular genomics technology at the Garvan Institute, Dr Chin aims to identify immune and tumour cell biomarkers –unique cellular signatures – to predict which lung cancer patients will respond to different immunotherapies.

In her research project, Dr Chin will analyse biopsy samples collected from patients with advanced lung cancer from St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney and the Nepean Cancer Research Biobank.

She will expose cells taken from different patients to immunotherapy in tissue culture, and use single cell genomics to perform an in-depth genomic analysis of both lung cancer cells and immune cells.

Using this information, Dr Chin aims to identify biomarkers in the cells of patients that respond well to immunotherapy and which could be screened for in a patient’s biopsy before a treatment is administered. The work is a crucial first step to developing a diagnostic test that can help doctors assess whether a patient is likely to respond to the treatment.

“Cellular genomics has a vast potential to guide more personalised treatment strategies and improve patient outcomes,” says Associate Professor Joseph Powell, Head of the Garvan-Weizmann Centre for Cellular Genomics. “It’s incredibly encouraging to see the support for this pioneering work through the Lung Foundation fellowship.”