Non-Invasive Nasal Epithelia Profiling for Early Diagnosis of Lung Cancer

lung cancer

There is currently no simple, non-invasive or effective way of detecting or diagnosing lung cancers at an early stage. Currently, 8 out of 10 diagnosis is made when the disease is already at an advanced stage, impacting on mortality. We believe that signature biomarker expressions associated with the presence of lung cancer, are likely to be present in airway epithelia extending from the airway to the nose. These changes in molecular markers within the nose could be leveraged to develop accurate lung cancer biomarkers for early detection and provide a means for routine diagnosis in at-risk patient populations. This pilot screening program will investigate the genetic differences between nasal epithelium and primary tumour cells from cohorts of lung cancer patients, compared to healthy controls. Information collected from this research will be able to provide critical data to be used for a future wider cohort study and longer term epidemiological study of cancer disease progression.

Program Type: MPhil, PhD

Research Group: Respiratory Technology Research Group

Supervisors: Dr Hui Xin Ong, Prof Paul Young, Prof Daniela Traini

Synopsis: There is currently no effective tool to diagnose lung cancer at an early stage resulting in high mortality rates. More often than not, diagnosis of the disease is made when the disease is already at an advanced stage. Hence, the focus of the project is to identify and use highly specific and sensitive biomarkers from the nose as a non-invasive, cost- effective and rapid screening tool as an alternative for the early diagnosis of lung cancer. Nasal brushings could serve as an accessible surrogate that could greatly accelerate treatment, while minimising unnecessary and potentially life threatening procedures.

Research Plan: The focus of this pilot study is to identify and use highly specific and sensitive biomarkers from nasal epithelial cells as a non-invasive alternative for lung cancer diagnosis. The hypothesis is that superficial nasal brushings could serve as an accessible surrogate for more complex, riskier, invasive and costly procedures like bronchoalveolar lavage, bronchoscopy and surgical biopsies, providing vital information, regarding gene expressions, RNA and protein synthesis, and also inflammatory cytokines profiles and ciliary function that could also be used to study disease pathophysiology. The project will involve recruitment of 20 healthy controls and 20 lung cancer patients undergoing lobectomy or pneumonectomies. Additionally, analysis of samples collected including fresh tumour, healthy surrounding tissue, nasal and buccal epithelia brushings, blood, sputum and patient history will need to be performed.

Significance: The significance of this work is that it will provide invaluable information about the relationship between upper and lower respiratory tract genetic biomarkers that will be exploited as a non-invasive means to diagnose lung cancers early, that could ultimately improve survival rates and accelerate treatment. This study will also be able to answer important scientific questions such as factors causing progressive lung deterioration and occurrence of lung cancer. With this knowledge, a routine testing kit which can be commercialised as a cheaper and rapid screening tool for clinical use in early diagnosis and population monitoring.

Funding: Perpetual IMPACT Philanthropy


  • Bachelor degree in health or science-related discipline with honours
  • Laboratory experience preferred
  • Passion and determination to make a difference in patient living with lung diseases

Contact: Dr Hui Xin Ong