Our lung cancer research

L-R: Dr Alvaro Gonzalez-Rajal, Dr Andrew Burgess, Rachael Zekanovic, Dr David Croucher, Professor Neil Watkins, Sam Rogers and Venessa Chin.

Whole-genome sequencing gives the Lung Cancer research teams the unparalleled ability to define the genetic characteristics of lung cancer; developing biomarkers of prognosis and therapeutic responsiveness and understanding the molecular mechanisms of resistance in order to develop new therapeutic strategies and more effective personalised medicine.

Key areas of investigation

Prof Neil Watkins
Prof Neil Watkins

Cracking the code to lung cancer

Although the lung cancer mortality rate has declined in men over recent years, lung cancer remains the greatest cause of cancer death. In Australia it has overtaken breast cancer as the greatest cause of cancer death among women. Despite medical developments which have led to improvements in breast, prostate and colorectal cancer treatment, patients diagnosed with advanced lung cancer, face a terrible prognosis with only 5 per cent being alive after five years.

With the increase in cases of lung cancer in people who have never smoked there is a renewed focus on occupational and environmental factors as causes of lung cancer. Genome technology allows us to search for the genetic signatures of the cause of lung cancer.

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New technologies

Professor Neil Watkins has been at the forefront of the development of new patient-derived xenograft (PDX) mouse models that have been highly successful in identifying mutations and developing new therapies in breast and pancreatic cancer. Professor Watkins has shown that cells from a patient’s lung tumour can be grafted into mice and the ensuing tumour used for testing with different therapies.

One of the main reasons lung cancer research has lagged behind that of other cancers is that very few patients have operable tumours from which tissue samples can be taken for analysis.

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The MOBILE study

With all cancers, we are now seeing that diseases that were once thought of as single entities are now proving to have great variety on a molecular basis. Professor Watkins’ latest research looks at how the cancer genome evolves during the course of therapy to better understand how and why lung cancer is so difficult to treat.

The knowledge gained from this type of study could change how we think about treating both SCLC and NSCLC.

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New hope for lung adenocarcinoma

Professor Neil Watkins and his team are studying chemoresistance in NSCLC adenocarcinoma.

We are hoping to use the genomic technologies at the Garvan to map the evolution of lung cancer as it responds to conventional therapies such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy, and to new targeted agents.

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National and international collaborations

  • Austin Health, Melbourne, Australia
  • Garvan Medical Research Institute, Sydney, Australia
  • Hudson Institute of Medical Research, Melbourne, Australia
  • Johns Hopkins University, Maryland, USA
  • Macquarie Hospital, Sydney, Australia
  • Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia
  • Monash Health, Melbourne, Australia
  • Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
  • Nepean Hospital, Penrith, Australia
  • Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute
  • Melbourne, Australia
  • Royal Melbourne Hospital, Melbourne, Australia
  • Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, Australia
  • Stanford University, California, USA
  • St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
  • University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
  • University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia