The ACRF Centre for Lung Cancer Early Detection is a multi-disciplinary research centre that conducts basic and clinical research into methods for detecting lung cancer at the earliest possible stage.

 The Centre aims to conduct research to improve outcomes for people with and at risk of lung cancer, including;

  1. Better ways to ways to screen for lung cancer
  2. Improved diagnostic methods for diagnosing suspected lung cancer
  3. Optimal ways to translate scientific discoveries to the clinic and bedside.

Over the next five years, the Centre, in conjunction with The University of Queensland Thoracic Research Centre at The Prince Charles Hospital, will undertake a range of research studies including:

  • Improved methods of early screening for lung cancer  using Low Dose Computed Tomography (LDCT)
  • Identifying biomarkers for lung cancer  that can be found in:
    • in exhaled breath;
    • blood,
    • lung fluids

Addressing a critical need

Lung cancer remains the leading cause of death from any cancer worldwide, for both men and women, and accounts for 18.8 per cent of all cancer deaths, or nearly 1 in 5. In 2012 one in every 16 Australians could expect to develop lung cancer by the age of 85, with an overall life expectancy that was the lowest of all cancers, at approximately 14% (AIHW, 2013). Figures like this lead to a significant burden on the Australian healthcare system and people impacted by this disease.

The low survival rate is due primarily to lung cancer being typically diagnosed at an advanced stage, when a nodule can be detected on the lung, which is also when curative treatments may no longer be possible.

Research suggests that to improve health outcomes and survival rates for this significant Australian chronic disease, IT MUST BE DETECTED EARLY in the disease process, an achievement that is very difficult with current diagnostic methods.

The ACRF Centre for Lung Cancer Early Detection is closely aligned with The University of Queensland Thoracic Research Centre (UQTRC) and is able to draw on the following resources:

Our laboratory

Our Research Laboratory is a fully functional molecular laboratory, capable of most molecular genetic techniques including a droplet digital PCR machine, an Ion Torrent PGM benchtop and an Ion Torrent Proton next generation sequencer.

The ACRF grant has enabled the purchase of:

  • QIAGEN QIAgility robotic system, (for handling multiple samples efficiently and accurately).
  • nCounter SPRINT Profiler (for differential expression of gene biomarkers).
  • Gas Chromatograph QQQ Mass Spectrometer (for volatile breath testing; CSIRO)
  • Lonestar Portable gas Analyser and BREATHS Module for volatile breath tests

Collaborations exist with local research institutes that provide assistance with Microarray; mRNA and miRNA quantitative PCR assays; immunohistochemistry; cell culture and protein analysis; sample collection, assessment and staging; bioinformatics; and genomics based statistical analysis).

The TPCH Lung Tissue Biobank

For over 20 years the UQTRC has been collecting and studying lung cancers and has collected ~1,290 fresh frozen lung cancers; over 1,900 paraffin blocks of normal and tumours; over 2,000 blood samples; DNA from nearly 6,000 patients (lung cancer or other non-cancer respiratory conditions); >150 bronchoscopy samples (bronchial washings and other samples) and >100 resected bronchial epithelial maps.

The lung cancer tissue bank resource has enabled collaboration with The Cancer Genome Atlas project, through the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health. All the tumours in this Biobank are carefully annotated through a rigorous well established process where important clinical, demographics and outcome (survival and recurrence) data is recorded. A state-of-the-art 64-slice detector CT scanners allows for imaging and storing high definition lung scans for quantitative analysis, and underpins the current low dose CT screening studies being undertaken with funding from NHMRC.

Our laboratory staff and students

In the UQTRC laboratory there are currently: 1 post-doctoral scientist; 3.8 FTE research assistants; 7 PhD students; 2 MPhil and 4 MBBS and 1 BSc Honours students. The laboratory was established in 1998 and has been undertaking research with funding through multiple research funding bodies since this time and produces an ongoing library of high-quality publications in the identification and treatment lung cancer and other respiratory diseases (such as mesothelioma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] & asthma); and genomics-based research.

Our clinical research team

The clinical research team works closely with the TPCH Thoracic Department and other local collaborators and is comprised of a Research Fellow, 4.2 FTE clinical research nurses and administrative positions. This team currently supports the Low Dose Computed Tomography Screening studies, and a range of other studies focused on:

  • Improving health care services for people with lung cancer; COPD, mesothelioma and asthma;
  • Innovations in lung cancer screening and diagnostic methods such as the use of LDCT and bronchoscopy methods; and,
  • Conducting service evaluations for thoracic medicine, for example, the use of telehealth models for regional and remote patients with lung cancer.

Our collaboration with CSIRO

The ACRF grant enabled the purchase of a Gas Chromatograph-Triple Quadrupole Mass Spectrometer (GC-QQQ MS). The new instrument is located at CSIRO's Black Mountain site in Canberra.  The GC-QQQ MS is the latest generation of high-performance mass spectrometer.  This instrument is ideal for investigating breath from lung cancer patients as the system can measure the amounts of specific volatile organic compounds at the parts per trillion level or lower.  These are the levels at which important volatile biomarkers are often found.  The sensitivity and superior quantitative capacity of the GC-MS QQQ is important for building robust diagnostic models.

The ACRF-funded instrument adds substantially to the capability of CSIRO's Breath Analysis and Biomarker Discovery Team, which is part of CSIRO Health and Biosecurity.  Other equipment, co-located with the new GC-QQQ MS, enables the remote collection, stabilisation, transport and analysis of breath samples from lung cancer and other patients.  In addition the Team has commissioned a sophisticated patient breath simulator and has developed software tools that allow rapid automated interrogation of large volatilome data sets.  Currently, CSIRO's Breath Analysis Team comprises five full time eqivalent staff.  The research is led by Drs Amalia Berna and Stephen Trowell.