New Director Set to Transform Lung Cancer Future


Esteemed cancer researcher Professor Maija Kohonen-Corish has been appointed to lead a new dedicated lung cancer centre into an exciting future of disease discovery.

The Lung Cancer Centre, at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, will run cutting-edge programs across all areas of lung cancer research, including genetics, drug discovery, delivery of medications and future developments for patient care. Our cross-disciplinary approach will ensure that today’s research in lung cancer is translated into tomorrow’s outcomes for patients.

Professor Kohonen-Corish brings with her a 24-year track record of discovery in cancer research, including the genetic basis of colon cancer, and translational research in colon and lung tumours.

Among projects to be established at the centre is the new director’s own work investigating lung bacteria and their role in disease. “One of the brightest hopes for better lung cancer treatments lies in research on the microbiome, naturally-occurring microorganisms found in the human body,”  Professor Kohonen-Corish says. “We know that gut bacteria play an important role in cancer and the success of cancer therapies, but what we are just discovering now is that the microorganisms found naturally in the lung itself may be vital too,” she says.

“It’s possible that bad lung bacteria or an altered balance of bacterial species, called dysbiosis, could be promoting lung disease, and could even be stopping some lung cancer treatments working effectively.”

Professor Matthew Peters, chair of the Lung Cancer network, says this new frontier of research shows great promise. “Discoveries in this area could dramatically alter our whole approach to lung cancer and improve outcomes for the 10,000 Australians diagnosed with lung cancer every year,” he says. “Lung cancer screening could be focussed on those who have a high-risk microbiome. Understanding the relationship between microbiome patterns and response to treatments will allow precision medicine and improve outcomes.”

Breakthrough innovations are desperately needed for lung cancer, a disease that kills 8,000 Australians every year, more than breast and prostate cancer combined. The past decade has seen the introduction of some new treatments that are effective for a minority of lung cancer patients.

“Survival rates will remain low unless we fund research and implement new treatments that are effective for the majority,” Professor Peters says. “What will hold us back more than anything is the mistaken belief that discovery is impossible and that investment is futile.”

Professor Kohonen-Corish says lung cancer receives just a tiny fraction of the funding of other cancers, largely due to its negative links to smoking. “This stigma is misplaced though, when you consider that many people who get lung cancer have never picked up a cigarette, but may have been exposed to other risk factors in the environment,” she explains.

The new state-of-the-art facility includes a patient database and biobank to give researchers access to valuable cells, de-identified patient information and fresh experimental results in the areas of molecular biology and drug discovery. The facility is a focus for the lung cancer network, an initiative which includes multiple research and clinical groups devoted to improve lung cancer outcomes.  “We are a hub for researchers, clinicians, respiratory physicians, oncologists, radiologists, thoracic surgeons, and advocates for lung cancer - basically all those driven to help fast track a cure for lung cancer,” the researcher says.

Professor Kohonen-Corish’s own work on microorganisms forms an key part of this disease discovery. Through a new collaboration with the Microbiome Research Centre at the University of New South Wales Sydney and St George Hospital in Sydney, researchers are investigating how gut and lung bacteria affect cancer development and interfere with treatment.

It is thought that an imbalance of the bacterial composition somehow weakens the effectiveness of potentially life-saving immunotherapy drugs that have shown promise in the treatment of metastatic lung cancer. “However, the genetic or epigenetic make-up of the tumour may also play a role. This is the challenge of the type of research we do, to determine which factors are the most important, in order to discover how the therapy can be improved,” says Professor Kohonen-Corish, who holds a joint appointment at the UNSW Sydney and the Woolcock Institute.  

Microbiome Research Centre Director Professor Emad El-Omar, from UNSW Sydney, says there are hundreds of different types of microbes in the lung that clearly impact on health, risk of disease and response to treatment. “The microbiome is the new frontier of medicine and it offers real opportunities for reducing the disease burden in society,” Professor El-Omar says. “Research on the lung microbiome has lagged behind but I am delighted to see this exciting new programme led by Professor Kohonen-Corish.“

He says progress in medicine can only happen if researchers challenge dogma, dedicate resources and work together across different disciplines. “This is why I am so excited about this collaboration between the Woolcock Institute and UNSW Sydney’s Microbiome Research Centre,” Professor El-Omar says.

 Lung Cancer: The Facts

·         Lung cancer is the 4th most common cancer in Australia and has the highest mortality rate

·         More than 10,000 Australians are diagnosed with it each year

·         It kills more women than breast, uterine, and ovarian cancer combined

·         Unlike breast or prostate cancer, lung cancer has no diagnostic tests for early detection

·         It is the leading cause of cancer in the Aboriginal population

·         Just 15 per cent of those diagnosed with lung cancer are still alive five years later



Nicotine Addiction and Smoking Cessation 3 Day Course


Did you know that Australia has one of the lowest smoking rates in the world?


Join our Nicotine Addiction and Smoking Cessation Course in Sydney, Australia, to gain indepth knowledge and skills to work as a Tobacco Treatment and Smoking Cessation Specialist.

Hosted by A/Prof Renee Bittoun,Tobacco Treatment Specialist, Adjunct Associate Professor Medical School, University of Notre Dame Australia, along with other experts in the field of smoking cessation. A/Prof Bittoun has been teaching this course for over 15 years, regularly updating the content and has many years of experience in clinical practice and professional training regarding smoking cessation.

Topics: Causes, consequences, treatment and research of smoking cessation, nicotine addiction and appropriate evidence based smoking cessation techniques in practical application. Our aim is to improve the implementation and evaluation of programs in smoking cessation. This 3 day course includes a USB stick with course materials and a certificate of attendance is awarded on completion.

This course is suitable for health practitioners who have an undergraduate degree in medical/para medical allied health and intend on dedicating a large component of their professional career to smoking cessation. This is a post-graduate level course. There will be an end of course assessment.

Course Dates: 26-28 March | 18-20 June | 28-30 October 2019

Ticket Price: $1,700 excl GST

Location: Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, 431 Glebe Point Road, Glebe NSW 2037

Fish Oil May Prevent Allergies in Kids: Study

paediatric allergies

A popular food supplement linked to heart health may help protect your child from developing allergies, Australian research has revealed.

A study by the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, in collaboration with researchers from Imperial College London, found that amongst children who lived in higher traffic areas, those who took fish oil supplements in their first five years of life were less likely to develop allergies to common house dust mites. This is despite living in traffic-dense areas known to drive up allergy rates in young people.

“Our work is the first to suggest that taking fish oil supplements in childhood may have a protective effect against allergies for kids living in heavy traffic pollution areas where allergy rates can be higher,” explains Dr Christine Cowie, co-author of the study published in the journal Environmental Health. “While our work is preliminary, it’s very exciting to find a potential aid for parents keen to shield their children from developing common household allergies.”

House dust mites are microscopic parasites that are one of the most common triggers of allergic conditions globally, and particularly so in Australia. Many people with asthma, atopic eczema and allergic rhinitis are allergic, and this eight-legged arthropod is one of the worst offenders. Mites feed off dead skin cells from humans, and make their home in bedding, mattresses, carpets and upholstered furniture.

A recent study by the same team found that children exposed to higher traffic within 50 metres of their home were at greater risk of having house dust mite allergy. So the group, led by Professor Anna Hansell from Imperial College, London, set out to investigate whether fish oil, a commonly-used supplement, could help minimise the effects of traffic pollution on the risk of being allergic.

The team examined data collected from a long-running longitudinal study on asthma in children. This analysis looked at the childrens’ data at eight years of age, along with data on traffic density as a measure of exposure to traffic-related air pollution, and allergic responses, lung function, and reported asthma and rhinitis. Half of the children in the study had been randomly allocated to take regular fish oil (omega-3) supplements throughout the first five years of life.

“We found that, among children exposed to high traffic at home, those that hadn’t been allocated the fish oil supplements had a greater risk of being allergic to house dust mites at eight years of age than children who had been given them,” Dr Cowie explains. “Put simply, taking fish oil supplements early in life may protect you from developing house dust mite allergy, if you live in an area with higher traffic.”

The study is one of the first to examine the interactive effects of air pollution with fish oil supplementation. The results are important because they suggest simple protective measures that may protect against the effects of pollution. “It would be a wonderful discovery if parents could protect their children from this common allergy simply by taking a food supplement,” Dr Cowie says.

While the results are promising, the researcher cautioned against immediate action. “It’s certainly exciting but our findings need to be replicated in larger studies before we can advise parents to race out to the pharmacy,” she says.

The paper, Weighted Road Density and Allergic Disease in Children at High Risk of Developing Asthma, has been published in Environmental Health. To view, visit

Lifesaving Tuberculosis Project Shortlisted for Top Science Gong


An innovative screening program that is transforming the global fight against tuberculosis (TB) has been shortlisted for one of Australia’s most prestigious science awards.

The project led by Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, is a finalist for the 2018 Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre Eureka Prize for Infectious Diseases Research.

The Act Now for Tuberculosis Control Team, made up of researchers from both the University of NSW and University of Sydney, is testing innovative screening approaches that promise to help eliminate the killer disease.

“Ten million people a year develop tuberculosis, one in three of whom are not diagnosed,” says Woolcock researcher Professor Guy Marks. “We believe that using existing tools, including some newly developed technologies, in new and better ways can make a big impact on this disease.”

Many people believe that we have already conquered tuberculosis because it is not common in Australia. However, globally, it is the leading infectious cause of death. It is a major problem in many low and middle income countries, including many of our neighbours in the Indo-Pacific region. The Act Now team has been working in collaboration with colleagues in one of those countries, Vietnam, for over a decade.

So far the researchers have screened more than 100,000 local people for TB in Vietnam. “We’ve taken innovative tuberculosis screening approaches developed through our own robustly-designed clinical trials and applied them at the grassroots, screening people who share households with tuberculosis patients,” explains Professor Marks. “These are people who are at very high risk of getting TB. By detecting TB early and referring them for treatment we are preventing the spread of TB and reducing the risk of death due to TB.”

Our findings promise to transform the approach prevention of TB in developing nations, he says.

The team is made up of Professor Marks and PhD student Jennifer Ho, both from University of NSW, and Professor Warwick Britton and Associate Professor Greg Fox from University of Sydney. 

The researchers say they feel privileged to be shortlisted for a Eureka Prize, an annual award to reward excellence in the fields of research & innovation, leadership, science engagement and school science. The winners will be announced on August 29.

TB: The Facts

  • Tuberculosis is a curable bacterial infection that is spread through inhaling tiny droplets from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person

  • Despite being preventable and curable, TB is common and deadly, particularly in poor countries

  • Every year, nine million develop TB, including 500,000 children. A further 1.8 million die from it

  • The World Health Organization says the death toll from the disease is still unacceptably high and efforts to combat it must be accelerated

Asthma Home Monitoring Study

asthma study

Asthmatics could soon be monitoring their wheeze from the comfort of home thanks to a high-tech gadget that may guard against asthma attacks.

Lung specialists at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney are testing whether it's possible for the tens of thousands of Australians with the common lung condition to self-monitor their symptoms using a device and the internet.

If successful, the system will change the way asthma is managed by providing patients with an early warning of flare-ups before they wind up in the hospital emergency department.

“People with asthma currently have no good tool to alert them to worsening symptoms,” says chief investigator Dr Cindy Thamrin. “Sadly that means many of Australia’s asthmatics get no warnings and wind up seeking urgent hospital care at the last minute.”

“Just like the finger prick test changed life for diabetics, our technology has the potential to revolutionise respiratory care by ensuring people know what is happening to their condition and how to keep them themselves safe," Dr Thamrin says.

More than two million Australians have asthma, a chronic lung condition that inflames and narrows the airways, causing wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and coughing. The causes are still not well understood, but triggers are known to include viral infections, exercise, and exposure to allergens and irritants.

Woolcock research shows asthma remains poorly controlled for 45 per cent of Australians with the condition, and nearly 30 per cent of sufferers required urgent asthma healthcare in the previous year. 

“The current approach in Australia is asthma self-management, with an action plan that helps patients recognise when their symptoms are worsening,” explains Dr Thamrin. “The problem is only one in four patients have an action plan and, on top of this, plans don’t always work because they’re based a patient’s own, often unreliable recall and perception of symptoms.”

Woolcock researchers hope to change the status quo with their state-of-the-art, mobile internet-connected device which patients use to monitor their lung function each day. This simple breathing test takes 1-2 minutes and will give vital information about the person's quality of life and whether a flare-up in symptoms might be on the horizon.

Dr Thamrin, working with engineers in Milan, Italy, is recruiting asthma patients in Sydney who will have their conditions monitored with daily at-home tests over six months. Those recruited will get monitoring as they use their own standard preventer treatment.

The device will use gentle sound waves to probe the lungs as patients breathe. The breathing data will be uploaded automatically to the cloud, and compared with the patient’s daily symptoms. "We hope to be able to identify the trigger point for when an increase in medication is required or a visit to their GP," Dr Thamrin says. "In future, either the patient or the GP will receive an alarm if their breathing data suggest they’re about to have a flare-up."

The challenge for the researchers will be maximising detection while minimising false alarms, she says.

Involvement comes with benefits for patients, who will each receive a detailed assessment of their lung function. "As well as the opportunity to monitor their health, those involved get to be part of an exciting trial that, all going well, will revolutionise management of a notoriously hard to manage condition," Dr Thamrin says.

Volunteers must aged over 18, have diagnosed asthma and currently treated regularly with preventer medication. You’ll be required to breathe into a simple device once daily at home for six months. You’ll also need to attend 2-3 one-hour clinic appointments either at the Woolcock’s Glebe headquarters, Concord Hospital or Royal North Shore Hospital. You will be reimbursed for your time attending clinic sessions.

If you are interested, talk to your doctor or contact one of the study investigators at 02 9114 0146 or