The Lung Cancer Initiative of North Carolina (LCI) has awarded The Vicky Amidon Innovation in Lung Cancer Research Award to Hongwei Du, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at University of North Carolina School of Medicine and Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. The award also was presented to Kenneth Adler, PhD, at the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Each will receive a $30,000 grant to support their research.

UNC Lineberger's Hongwei Du, PhD
Hongwei Du, PhD.

A common complication of lung cancer is brain metastasis, in which there is limited treatment. Du’s project, “Targeting Brain Metastasis of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer by Enhancing CAR-T Cell Migration via CCR2,” will focus on developing a new treatment with chimeric antigen receptor T-cells (CAR-T) immunotherapy against non-small cell lung cancer and exploring new ways to improve the treatment against the brain metastasis by helping CAR-T cells move into the brain tumor.

CAR-T cells are created by extracting T-cells, which are disease-fighting immune cells, from the patient’s blood, and genetically engineering them to recognize and direct an attack against the patient’s cancer. The CAR-T cells are then infused back into the patient.

“The adoptive transfer of CAR-T cell is emerging as a potential curative approach for cancer patients,” said Du, who works in the laboratory of Gianpietro Dotti, MD, who is the director of cellular immunotherapy program at UNC Lineberger. “If the proposed strategies are successful, it can be a great impact for lung cancer treatment, which may represent a curable opportunity for lung cancer patients with metastatic lesions, especially for brain metastasis.”

“With the Lung Cancer Initiative’s support, I will continue to develop novel immunotherapies for lung cancer, and our overall goal is to develop potential therapy, reducing mortality and morbidity in lung cancer patients,” Du added.

An innovative approach in lung cancer treatment

“Very few chemotherapy medications effectively treat brain metastases,” said Jeff Petty, MD, chair of the Lung Cancer Initiative Scientific Advisory Committee. “In his proposal, Dr. Du attempts to deliver better immunologic treatments to lung cancer deposits in the brain by attaching a brain directed homing signal to cancer targeting immune cells called CAR-T cells.  If successful, Dr. Du’s highly innovative approach could change the landscape for targeted immunotherapy.”

The Vicky Amidon Innovation in Lung Cancer Research Award is named in the memory of Vicky Amidon a beloved wife, mother and friend who lost her battle with lung cancer at the age of 44 and whose memory is furthered through her family’s advocacy and support for the advancement of lung cancer research and awareness. The award recognizes and supports researchers who are developing innovative lung cancer projects that will improve the lives of those at risk of or living with lung cancer.

Annually, lung cancer claims more lives in North Carolina and the United States than any other cancer and more than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined.  In 2019, an estimated 8,010 individuals will be diagnosed with the disease in North Carolina. Since 2008, LCI has funded more than $1.8 million in lung cancer research through programs including the innovation award, research fellowship grants, health disparities in lung cancer grant in partnership with the V Foundation for Cancer Research and a career development award.

About Lung Cancer Initiative of North Carolina

As the state’s leading nonprofit organization supporting lung cancer research and education, the Lung Cancer Initiative of North Carolina specializes in connecting patients, survivors and loved ones with the medical and research community. The organization’s mission is to save lives and provide support to those affected by lung cancer through research, awareness, education and access programs across North Carolina.