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15 Years of Research

  • May 17 2016

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    15 Years of Research

    Research to develop new treatment approaches is the key to doubling lung cancer survival, and research cannot occur without funding. Free to Breathe has contributed to progress in lung cancer research by supporting the most inspired and innovative investigators through our grant programs.


    Since 2005, Free to Breathe has funded a Young Investigators Grant Program with the goal of supporting up-and-coming researchers and incentivizing them to focus their efforts to study lung cancer. Each of the experts funded by Free to Breathe was drawn to lung cancer research for different reasons. Some had a personal connection to lung cancer, others saw a drastic need and wanted to make a difference in the lives of others. But they all have one thing in common.

    Over the past 15 years, each of these grant recipients has been dedicated to uncovering lifesaving discoveries for patients with lung cancer.
    James Kim, MD, PhD, from University of Texas Southwestern, began his original research as a way to better understand the communications between tumor cells and their surrounding environment. Treatments that disrupt the communication pathways of tumor cells may prove to be a new way to treat cancer, the goal being to develop more holistic therapeutic strategies that would lead to better treatment outcomes.

    Dr. Kim’s study gathered crucial data that helped secure funding for future projects from the Department of Defense and the Sidney Kimmel Foundation Translational Research Award. “We are hopeful to complete the project within the next year and submit a manuscript for review. A greater understanding of the communications between tumors and normal cells gives us a more complete view of lung cancer,” says Kim. Through this research, Kim hopes to put more emphasis on lung cancers that currently have limited treatment options.

    Dr. Kim entered the field of lung cancer research because he saw holes that needed to be filled in order to provide better treatments for patients. Claire Simpson, PhD, an investigator from the University of Tennessee, began her journey in lung cancer research because her grandmother passed away while her father was still very young. Watching her father cope with the loss motivated Simpson to immerse herself in the study of the disease.

    Dr. Simpson’s project initially aimed to identify gene mutations that were contributing to the risk of developing lung cancer. Early results of the study have been published, and further experiments are planned. Data from this study have been submitted as part of grant applications to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “A greater understanding of how a person’s genetic makeup increases risk [for lung cancer] will provide new areas of research for potential treatments,” Dr. Simpson says.

    Researchers like Drs. Kim and Simpson dedicate themselves to finding answers. Their research builds and grows, making way for future possibilities that will save the lives of those affected by lung cancer. Which is why, over the past 15 years, Free to Breathe has funded over $5 million of groundbreaking research with the greatest chance of doubling lung cancer survival by 2022.

    Supporting promising researchers with initial grant funding is, in itself, an inspiring part of being Free to Breathe. But seeing their projects and ideas take off and lead to groundbreaking developments with even greater potential is where a vision becomes reality. So what does the future hold for the next 15 years of lung cancer research?

    For Dr. Kim, lung cancer research will no longer lag far behind other cancers, and he believes Free to Breathe grant programs have an important role to play. “Free to Breathe fills part of this large hole, and I believe it is critical for furthering lung cancer research. The grants allow junior investigators (like me) to have funds to initiate research that would not normally have been funded through NIH mechanisms,” he says.

    On a similar note, Dr. Simpson feels the advocacy work of Free to Breathe is crucial to conveying the message that patients with lung cancer deserve the same consideration as people with other cancers. She feels the next 15 years of research will hopefully lead to “earlier diagnoses, better treatments, and one day, a diagnosis of lung cancer will be very rare but when it happens it will no longer be a death sentence.”

    We are confident that research and the brilliant minds behind it are the keys to unlocking a brighter future for those touched by lung cancer. Which is why Free to Breathe is funding $1.2 million through the Metastasis Grant program, now in its second year, in an effort to save more lives through groundbreaking research. In the coming years, we can reach a shared goal of doubling lung cancer survival by 2022.

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