Translational Research: A Key Component in Lung Cancer Treatment Progress

Juhi Kunde, MA, LUNGevity Science Writer
Dr. Patrick Forde
Dr. Patrick Forde

In the past 10 years, lung cancer has seen significant progress in patient outcomes that would not have been possible without translational research.

Translational research fills the research space between the lab, where basic science discoveries are made, and the clinic, where patients are seen and treated by their doctors. The goal is to bring new discoveries as quickly and safely as possible from the lab to the patients.

Translational researchers also take the observations and outcomes from the clinic back into the lab to study, understand, and ultimately, improve outcomes for patients. It is thanks to translational lung cancer research that recent developments in precision medicine—targeted therapies and immunotherapies—have been developed.

All research projects supported by LUNGevity involve translational research. An excellent example of translational research that may lead to improved outcomes is that of Dr. Patrick Forde. Dr. Forde, now Director of the Thoracic Cancer Clinical Research Program at Johns Hopkins Medicine, was awarded a Career Development translational research grant by LUNGevity in 2014 to help him establish his research program and pursue his interest in treating early-stage lung cancer patients with immunotherapy. His project, a clinical trial in which early-stage lung cancer patients were treated with immunotherapy before undergoing surgery, indicated the promise of this treatment. Building on his initial work supported by LUNGevity, this approach is currently being tested among many patients in phase 3 clinical trials, with the hope of ultimately establishing a new standard of care for early-stage patients.

“Johns Hopkins sees about 600-800 new lung cancer patients each year. Because of our strong translational research program, we can offer them the opportunity to be a part of the research process,” explains Dr. Forde. “For my research, which focuses on newly diagnosed patients, we know surgery is a good option. So, the patients work with the research team and coordinators to set up biopsies and blood tests prior to surgery. We have to make sure that tumor and blood samples get to the lab in a way that they can be tested appropriately. Then, on the day of the patient’s surgery, we spend the day in contact with the surgeon to ensure we receive and process the samples properly. It can take 2-3 hours to process the samples, so sometimes the team is working until midnight. There are often follow-up tests required too. Eventually, the patient will continue with their normal clinical care, and our research analysis will continue for months or even years with the goal of discovering new ways to treat and cure lung cancer.”

This type of data collection and analysis is critical for guiding future treatments and making improvements to our current standards of care. Yet there are obstacles facing translational researchers. “Funding is always an issue that researchers struggle with,” notes Dr. Forde, “as is the coordination of collecting and processing blood and tissue samples. There could be 10 hospitals in one city, and researchers need to integrate into each of those hospitals and coordinate between the patients, surgeons, hospital staff, and laboratory processing personnel.”

Fortunately, with non-profit organizations like LUNGevity supporting translational research projects, this type of research is becoming more common and hospitals, surgeons. and clinical trial coordinators are getting more comfortable working together.

“We are starting to see the incredible results of translational research,” says Dr. Forde, who joined LUNGevity’s Scientific Advisory Board in 2019. “And I feel optimistic that we are on-track to bring more life-saving research to lung cancer patients and their families.”

 

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Juhi KundeJuhi Kunde, MA, is a science writer for LUNGevity.

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