Burlington researcher gets grant to study new lung cancer treatments for chemo-resistant tumors

Vermont Business Magazine Lung health research is more important than ever. Never have we faced so many challenges to our lung health, including COVID-19, vaping and smoke from increased wildfires. Today, the American Lung Association in Vermont announced that Yvonne Janssen-Heininger, Ph.D. from the University of Vermont was awarded the Lung Cancer Discovery Award.

“Vermont ranks average when it comes to rates of new cases of lung cancer, lack of treatment, and surgery. When it comes to treating the leading cause of cancer deaths in the state, Vermont can do better. We also have more than 85,000 people in our state are living with chronic lung disease,” said Trevor Summerfield, Director of Advocacy at the Lung Association in Vermont. “We are excited for Yvonne to join the American Lung Association Research Team to help improve lung health here in Vermont and across the nation.”

Yvonne Janssen-Heininger, Ph.D., is an expert in the fields of pulmonary fibrosis and redox medicine. Growing up in the south of Holland, she witnessed abundant chronic lung diseases in her community, including her family. Coal mining was prevalent in the Netherlands through the 1970s, and air pollution and tobacco smoking remain the leading causes of diseases including pneumoconiosis, silicosis, pulmonary fibrosis and lung cancer. The experience triggered Janssen-Heininger’s ambition to unravel the molecular mysteries of pulmonary diseases and discover potential treatments.

Janssen-Heininger’s Lung Association grant will fund a project seeking to study protein oxidation in the development of lung cancer with the aim of creating a new druggable target for chemotherapy-resistant tumors. She said, “The goal is to be able to interfere with this protein oxidation pathway, focusing on a specific target, in order to destroy lung tumors and to cause cancers to respond much better to cisplatin [chemotherapy], at lower doses. Ultimately, we hope this study will lead to improved response to immunotherapy.”

In the 2022-2023 grants cycle, the Lung Association is funding $13.2 million for more than 130 lung health research grants. For this round of funding, the organization placed a greater focus on strategic partnerships with key organizations like American Thoracic Society and CHEST, and grants that focus on equity like the Harold Amos Scholar.

Research projects funded by the Lung Association are carefully selected through rigorous scientific review and awardees represent the investigation of a wide range of complex issues. Awards were given in eight different categories; ALA/AAAAI Allergic Respiratory Diseases Award, ALA/ATS/CHEST Foundation Respiratory Health Equity Research Award, Catalyst Award, COVID-19 Respiratory Virus Research Award, Dalsemer Award, Innovation Award, Lung Cancer Discovery Award, and Public Policy Research Award.

The Lung Association’s Nationwide Research Program includes the Awards and Grants Program, and also our Airways Clinical Research Network, the nation's largest not-for-profit network of clinical research centers dedicated to asthma and COPD treatment research.

Yvonne Janssen-Heininger, PhD

Institution: The University of Vermont

Project: Preventing Increase in Antioxidant to Boost Effectiveness of Lung Cancer Treatment

Grant(s): Lung Cancer Discovery Award

The environment of lung tumors is hostile, requiring tumors to adapt to be able to survive and grow. Part of this adaptation is a change in metabolism that increases the antioxidant glutathione to combat oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between your body’s antioxidant defenses and the production of oxidants, which can potentially damage your cells. We will study how this increase in glutathione occurs and offer new strategies to prevent the increases in glutathione from happening. We will test whether this strategy can be used to augment the therapeutic efficacy of the chemotherapeutic drug cisplatin.

For more information about the new grant awardees and the entire American Lung Association Research Team, visit Lung.org/research-team.

About the American Lung Association

The American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease through education, advocacy and research. The work of the American Lung Association is focused on four strategic imperatives: to defeat lung cancer; to champion clean air for all; to improve the quality of life for those with lung disease and their families; and to create a tobacco-free future. For more information about the American Lung Association, which has a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator and is a Gold-Level GuideStar Member, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: Lung.org.

Burlington, VT – (October 25, 2022) – American Lung Association. Chicago