The Inspirational Research Effect

Inspirational Grant Recipients

The Inspirational Research Grant has been created from philanthropic donations to increase research into prevention, treatment, or improved lives of those living with thoracic cancers.

While lung cancer remains the deadliest cancer, less than 6% of research funding goes towards thoracic cancers. To bridge this gap, TOGA’s Inspirational Research Grant creates more opportunities for successful clinical trials, giving lung cancer and mesothelioma patients access to life-saving treatments and world-class care. In the first year, TOGA has been able to award the grants to researchers with a diverse set of projects:

Dr Wasek Faisal: Developing a Clinical Composite Score (CCS) for wild-type, metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (mNSCLC), to identify patients at risk of poorer outcomes, and co-design solutions to improve outcomes for regional patients to bridge the metropolitan vs regional gap.

Dr Tracy Leong: Defining epigenetic causes of immunotherapy resistance through liquid biopsies in lung cancer.

Dr Lara Edbrooke: Implementing pre-habilitation into lung cancer care. 

Dr Vanessa Brunelli: Breathlessness in lung cancer study: making breathlessness symptom management usual practice in lung cancer therapy.

Dr Peter Shi: The application of a 3D cell culture model to assess the utility of novel immunotherapy drugs for the treatment of mesothelioma

To know how this grant will improve the research and the future of treatment for thoracic cancers, we asked a few of the recipients to get their thoughts. 

What is the potential impact of your research on improving patient outcomes?

Dr Wasek Faisal: By developing this prognostic scoring system, which takes clinical biomarkers as well as patient and health-service-related factors into account, it could potentially identify sub-groups of patients at the time of diagnosis (even before they start treatment) that are at-risk of poorer outcome. 

This will allow us to dedicate appropriate resources and support services to these patients to improve their outcome and improve their general well-being.

Dr Tracy Leong: My current work is focused on exploring the causes / pathways of resistance to immunotherapy drugs. Through our findings, we hope to inform drug choices and regimens, and potentially generate targets for novel agent development. 

This work has been enabled by establishing the first national lung cancer biobank, the TRACKER biobank, where tissue and blood samples are collected from individuals with lung cancer who will go on to receive immunotherapy. 

Dr Lara Edbrooke: The introduction in 2025 of lung cancer screening in Australia will see an increase in the number of people diagnosed with operable disease. Preparation for major surgery, which is physiologically challenging, is critical. Prehabilitation is a multimodal intervention before surgery to address surgical and physiological stresses and may include education (e.g., surgical processes, respiratory care and early mobility), exercise and nutritional optimisation.

How does your research fit into the broader landscape of thoracic cancer research?

WF: As we move towards “precision and personalised medicine”, this piece of work will contribute towards the body of work to tailor treatment based on individual patient need and their disease characteristics.

TL: Immunotherapy is progressively being used in more individuals with lung cancer. As such, it is important that thoracic cancer researchers discover biomarkers of drug resistance and develop strategies to overcome resistance when it occurs. More broadly, the TRACKER project will facilitate the work of lung cancer researchers requiring biological samples and clinical data for translational research.

LE: Prehabilitation is a multi-disciplinary intervention aimed at improving outcomes for patients and the healthcare system. Postoperative pulmonary complications (PPCs) are most common and are associated with prolonged intensive care and hospital length of stay, higher hospital readmission rates and worse survival. For people with lung cancer it has been shown to reduce post-operative complications.

Prehabilitation is associated with large and significant reductions in PPCs (55%). Reducing PPCs and empowering patients through education can improve recovery after surgery leading to earlier discharge home and a timely return to post-operative treatments with consequent improvement in cancer survival, as well as reductions in hospital bed days.

How will the funding from TOGA be used to support your research?

WF: The funding from TOGA will support dedicated research staff to work on database development, data analysis and mathematical modelling, to develop and validate the prognostic scoring system. 

TL: Funding from TOGA will be used to specifically explore markers of immunotherapy resistance in blood, so called liquid biopsies. 

LE: The funding from TOGA will support our team to conduct a study to assess the feasibility and acceptability of providing prehabilitation in Australia prior to lung cancer surgery. The prehabilitation program, delivered using telehealth, will include education; breathing exercises using a resistance device (known as inspiratory muscle training [IMT]); and a home-walking program.

How can TOGA continue to support your research endeavors?

WF: TOGA continues to provide the collaborative platform to bring thoracic cancer clinicians and researchers together, and advocate for lung cancer resources at a policy and implementation level, to keep research at the cutting edge.

TL: The support from TOGA thus far has been invaluable to initiating our work into immunotherapy resistance. In particular, TOGA has supported the TRACKER biobank, which is an important resource for lung cancer researchers. TOGA can continue to support research endeavours through opportunities for funding as well as presentation of our findings to the lung cancer community. 

LE: TOGA can support our research endeavors by continuing to provide opportunities for all members of the lung cancer multi-disciplinary team and consumers to work collaboratively and exchange knowledge. This includes currently running opportunities such as the Annual Scientific Meeting, workshops [attended by consumers, researchers and clinicians] and seed funding to support early and mid-career researchers working in the area of lung cancer.