On May 11, the Swiss Group for Clinical Cancer Research (SAKK) presented the SAKK Network Trial Award to young research scientist Noémie Lang. This valuable prize is being awarded for the first time, with the sum of CHF 1 million playing a fundamental role in clinical oncological research activities in Switzerland. It goes to a young doctor from western Switzerland who has made a name for herself in oncological research through her exceptional commitment alongside her demanding day-to-day hospital duties.
The SAKK research group working with Noémie Lang is investigating aggressive lymphoma, a form of blood cancer. The spread of cancer cells to the brain is a possible complication of this cancer. It is not common, but once the cancer arrives in the brain, it can often have a fatal outcome for the patient. Their average life expectancy drops to a few months, not least because the cancer cells in the brain are difficult to locate. Fewer than half of patients with this complication are identified using conventional methods, with disastrous consequences for treatment.
The clinical trial which won the SAKK Network Trial Award is investigating whether finding DNA from the cancer in the patient’s cerebrospinal fluid can enable the spread of cancer cells into the brain to be identified earlier and more reliably. A sample of cerebrospinal fluid is routinely obtained from the patient while cancer therapy is in progress. The new research project is specifically seeking to identify DNA from the cancer in this fluid. If cancer cells have penetrated the brain, the researchers get a positive result and patients can start immediately with supplementary treatment – earlier than was previously possible, and therefore with a greater chance of success. If no DNA from the cancer is found in the cerebrospinal fluid, patients continue receiving the standard therapy and are spared the side effects of the supplementary therapy since they do not need it. Researchers hope that this earlier, reliable distinction will mean that in future every patient will receive precisely the treatment they need.
The prize is a further boost for Noémie Lang’s career as a clinical researcher working in oncology. This is where she feels her future lies. “One of the things that fascinates me about clinical cancer research is the scientific aspect. The approaches to therapy are developing at lightning speed, and personalized therapy has progressed to an unbelievable extent in just a few years. At the same time, as an oncologist I am supporting patients during a significant, vulnerable phase of their lives. That creates a powerful emotional connection that I wouldn’t miss for the world.”
Furthermore, the prize money is fundamental for her further work at the hospital. “In Switzerland it’s easier to get funding for basic research than for clinical research,” she explains. “SAKK is filling a funding gap in this area, and it is only because of this group that independent clinical trials can be performed in hospitals.” The CHF 1 million prize money will cover a large part of the funding needed for the practical implementation of the trial at 12 sites in Switzerland under the management of Geneva University Hospitals (HUG).
Prof. Miklos Pless, SAKK President, is also very proud: “I am exceptionally delighted to present the very first Network Trial Award to Noémie Lang, a young scientist who took part in the the SAKK Young Oncology mentoring program.”
Dr. med. Noémie Lang, Geneva University Hospitals (HUG)
Dr. med. Benjamin Kasenda, University Hospital Basel
Prof. Dr. med. Davide Rossi, Oncology Institute of Southern Switzerland (IOSI)
Prof. Dr. med. Francesco Bertoni, Institute of Oncology Research IOR
The team was supported by the SAKK Project Group Lymphoma.