Upstage Lung Cancer

Using performing arts to raise awareness and funding for lung cancer research

Research We Fund

Upstage Lung Cancer is proud to have funded almost $3 million in lung cancer research.

2019-2020: A New Ultra-sensitive, Highly Specific Hand-held Gas Sensor System for Biomarker Volatile Organic Compounds from Exhaled Breath for Early Screening of Lung Cancer

This grant was funded in part by Upstage Lung Cancer

Nian Sun, PhD
Director, W.M. Keck Laboratory for Integrated Ferroics, Northeastern University

The Sun Lab is developing a new ultra-sensitive, highly specific hand-held gas sensor system for biomarker volatile organic compounds from exhaled breath for early screening of lung cancer. Lung cancer screening by CT scan is USPSTF recommended in a high-risk population, of which the implementation in rural areas has been challenging, and false positives have resulted in resection of benign nodules. An inexpensive and portable technology has the potential to increase screening rates and reduce procedures for false positives. Here we propose to develop novel gas sensors that are ultra-sensitive, highly selective, hand-held with low size, weight, power consumption and cost, which can sense biomarker volatile organic compounds in real time for early screening of lung cancer. This technology will be developed for diagnosis of lung cancer within a high-risk population defined by USPSTF guidelines within an established clinical lung screening program.

2019: Using Organoids For The Early Detection of Lung Cancer

This grant was funded in part by Upstage Lung Cancer

Tyler Jacks, PhD
Director, Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT

David H. Koch
Professor of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Jacks Lab is using lung organoids (miniaturized lungs that are grown in a dish from healthy cells) to discover new methods for the early detection of lung cancer via a blood or lung fluid test. Using organoids, the lab will transform the healthy cells through gene modification to become cancerous cells. Once this occurs, they have a sample of early stage cancerous cells that they can compare with healthy cells. Their goal is to identify proteins that are expressed and secreted only in the cancerous cell group and not the healthy cell group. The expression of these proteins could then serve as a biomarker which could be tested for in blood or lung fluids to provide early, non-invasive detection of lung cancer.


This grant was funded in part by Lungevity

Edwin Yau, MD, PhD
Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, NY

Currently, computed tomography (CT) is available as a tool for the early detection of lung cancer in high-risk individuals. Unfortunately, it has a high false-positive rate: less than 5% of people with nodules found through CT actually have lung cancer. Apart from the distress associated with false positives, individuals may have to undergo invasive procedures, such as a biopsy, to rule out lung cancer.

Circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) is DNA released from dying cancer cells into the bloodstream. Individuals with early-stage lung cancer may have ctDNA in their blood, even when the cancer is localized. CRISPR-Cas technology is a novel DNA modifying tool that can be used to develop sensitive, specific, and economic ctDNA assays. Dr. Edwin Yau will develop a CRISPR-Cas-based blood test to detect ctDNA in the blood of individuals suspected of having lung cancer. While the immediate goal of the project is to evaluate this blood test in individuals who have already undergone a CT scan, the ultimate goal of the project is to develop a blood test for screening all individuals.

2018-2019: Early Detection

This grant was funded in part by Upstage Lung Cancer with MIT's Koch Institute Frontier Research Program

Sangeeta N. Bhatia, MD, PhD
Koch Institute

John J. and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Health Sciences and Technology and of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“Our laboratory conducts research at the intersection of engineering, medicine, and biology to develop novel platforms for understanding, diagnosing and treating cancer.”

Accurate, timely, and effective diagnosis is the first step in appropriately treating disease. At present, lung disease diagnoses require technologically-advanced imaging, due to a lack of a reliable circulating biomarker, and tumors are generally only detectable at relatively late stages of disease. A promising approach currently in development in the Bhatia lab is the introduction of synthetic biomarkers that interact with the diseased environment to produce a simple readout.

2018, 2019: Epidemiology of Young Lung Cancer

This grant was funded in part by Upstage Lung Cancer with Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation

Tony Addario
Chair and CEO of ALCMI

Epidemiology is the method used to find the causes of health outcomes and diseases in populations. Although we have new information about the genomics of lung cancer in young people (YLC) from our Genomics of Young Lung Cancer study, the actual causes of YLC remain unknown.

The goal of the Epidemiology of Young Lung Cancer Study (EoYLC) is to identify lifestyle, environmental, and family/genetic risk factors associated with the development of YLC and specific cancer-driving mutations. The innovation of EoYLC study is that it is the first of its kind to investigate why certain young people develop lung cancer. It is a necessary step toward understanding, diagnosing, and easing the burden of this devastating disease among young people.

2017-2018: Early Detection

This grant was funded in part by Upstage Lung Cancer

Geoffrey Oxnard, MD
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Harvard Medical School

Dr. Oxnard’s research studies noninvasive detection of plasma cell free DNA circulating in the blood, as a tool for detecting cancer-derived mutations. This transformative technology offers an opportunity to find targetable mutations, monitor for drug resistance, and even to detect subclinical metastatic disease. With a multi-pronged research approach, Dr. Oxnard aims to integrate plasma genotyping lung cancer care as a new diagnostic modality.

Barbara J Gitlitz MD

2014-2018: Genomics of Young Lung Cancer Study

This grant was funded in part by Upstage Lung Cancer with Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation

Barbara J. Gitlitz, MD
University Southern California

Geoffrey R. Oxnard, MD
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

ALCMI is the sister organization of the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation (ALCF) and brings together some of the finest researchers in lung cancer throughout the world. As a result of this collaborative “think tank,” a project was directed to investigate the genomic profiles of young people, under age 40, with lung cancer.

2016-2018: Early Detection

This grant was funded in part by Lungevity

Lida Hariri, MD, PhD
Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard University, Boston, MA

A tissue biopsy is often required to make a definitive diagnosis of lung cancer. However, because of small size and inadequate biopsy yield, early-stage lung cancer is often difficult to diagnose. Dr. Hariri is using a novel imaging technique called optical coherence tomography (OCT) to develop tools to guide tissue biopsy sampling to improve tissue yield. These tools will also provide additional diagnostic information.

Vadim Backman, PhD

2015-2016: Early Detection

This grant was funded in part by LUNGevity

Vadim Backman, PhD
Northwestern University, Evanston, IL

Ankit Bharat, MBBS
Northwestern University, Evanston, IL

Cells in the respiratory tract are usually stacked in an orderly fashion. As lung cancer develops, the cells get “un-stacked” and their shapes change, giving them the ability to grow and spread to other parts of the body. Dr. Vadim Backman from Northwestern University is utilizing a new technology called Partial Wave Spectroscopy for seeing those cells. With the Upstage Lung Cancer/ LUNGevity Early Detection Award, he will check how cells taken from the cheeks of stage I lung cancer patients reflect these early changes with the ultimate goal of using partial wave spectroscopy technology for early detection of lung cancer.

Stanford University, Stanford, CA

2014-2015: Targeted Therapies

This grant was funded in part by LUNGevity

Alejandro Sweet-Cordero, MD
Stanford University, Stanford, CA

Jennifer Cochran, PhD
Stanford University, Stanford, CA

Lung cancer cells depend on continuous cross-talk with other cells around them. Drs. Sweet-Cordero and Cochran will use decoy proteins to intercept and disable this essential molecular communications between the tumor and its environment, thereby destroying the cancer.

Feng Jiang, MD, PhD

2013-2015: Early Detection Award

This grant was funded in part by LUNGevity

Feng Jiang, MD, PhD
University of Maryland, Baltimore, MD

Sanford Stass, MD
University of Maryland, Baltimore, MD

Dr. Jiang is identifying sputum biomarkers that could improve the process of detecting early-stage lung cancer by contributing to development of a non-invasive test that complements low-dose computed tomography (CT) scans and improves the accuracy of diagnosis.

Rebecca Heist, MD

2011-2013: Targeted Therapies

This grant was funded in part by LUNGevity

Rebecca Heist, MD, MPH
Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA

Anthony Iafrate, MD
Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA

William Pao, MD, PhD
Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN

The treatment of lung cancer has been revolutionized by the discovery of specific targeted therapies. These successes have taught us that lung cancer is actually a multitude of different diseases, best defined by the specific tumor genetic changes. The project goal is to discover new targets that are critical for developing effective therapies to directly target those changes. Results of this two-year project show great promise in validating newly identified mutations for target.