Engineering the Treatment of Early-Stage Lung Cancer [SPONSORED]

Engineering the Treatment of Early-Stage Lung Cancer [SPONSORED]

This podcast was produced by Scientific American Custom Media for the Lung Cancer Initiative at Johnson & Johnson. It is a separate division from the magazine’s editorial board.

This interview will feature Hannah McEwen (PhD), the head of engineering sciences at Johnson & Johnson’s Lung Cancer Initiative. She will discuss new procedures that are minimally invasive and can help in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of early-stage lung cancers. These include robotic bronchoscopes, which help oncologists diagnose difficult-to-reach lung nodules and treatments that could one day be used to deliver treatment directly to early-stage cancers.


Megan Hall Lung Cancer is the leading cause for cancer deaths worldwide. Why? Because it is difficult to detect early and difficult to treat once it is diagnosed. Johnson & Johnson’s Lung Cancer Initiative is working to reverse this trend. It requires engineers and not only doctors and researchers to reverse this trend. Hannah McEwen heads the Engineering Sciences group.

She recently met with Scientific American Custom Media to discuss the role of engineering in transforming lung cancer diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

Hall Engineering is not always associated with medicine. When Hannah McEwen began her engineering career, it was because she thought about how engineering principles and problem-solving techniques could be applied to biology and medicine in order to improve healthcare.

Hannah McEwen When I was in my undergrad days at university, I fell in love with the idea that engineering could be used to improve a patient’s life.

Hall This love blossomed during her first internship. She worked on electronic devices that provide a sense to sound for people who are profoundly hearing impaired or deaf. These cochlear implants are a striking example of engineering that can improve quality of life, she says.

McEwen Physics and mechanics are applied to electrical engineering and can transform someone’s lives. From hearing nothing to being able hear sounds and voices, to being able hear people and sounds, it can have a profound impact on their lives.

Hall Hannah joined Johnson and Johnson in 2000 and spent over a decade creating orthopedic implants that help people move and walk again. She began to collaborate with colleagues from the company on new and ambitious projects.

McEwen We shouldn’t wait until someone develops a disease. Instead, we should treat them immediately. But what can we do earlier to stop the disease from progressing?

Hall The ideal disease for this type of thinking is lung cancer. Because it is a complex disease, it is the most deadly form of cancer. Hannah is part of the Johnson & Johnson Lung Cancer Initiative and has assembled a team consisting of engineers to tackle this challenge.

McEwen They come from a variety of backgrounds and have worked in different areas of healthcare. However, they all have a passion for innovation and a passion for solving problems.

Hall Engineers help to fight lung cancer Hannah says that it’s not just about developing new technologies to treat the disease.

McEwen It also concerns how to perform a surgical or interventional procedure to diagnose and treat a person’s condition. It’s the technology and the physical and mechanical solutions that are used in treating things that are happening in the human body.

Hall Hannah (and her team) often observe lung cancer procedures, and ask questions.

McEwen We often look at more than just the device that the doctor is using in a procedure. How is that handled? Who is the one who gives the device to the doctor? We may be able to see that there are many other staff members in the room who are also using different tools during that procedure. We get to see firsthand the challenges they face.

Hall These observations allow Hannah’s team not only to develop a specific tool but also to identify the need for additional technologies or new ways to use existing instruments. A robotic bronchoscope could do more than allow a doctor to take a sample from a lesion in a patient’s lungs. Imagine if you could one day be able to detect a cancer in your own body.

McEwen This, at the time, is helping to see that my biopsy needle is in, I’m able to look at it and say Oh, it’s under the microscope and see that it’s definitely a cancer I should treat.

McEwen So, we can decide that it is cancer and then, maybe, one day, actually treat it with the same procedure?

Hall Once cancer has been confirmed, the doctor can inject medicine or use energy to start treatment. Hannah believes this method is more efficient and will help patients experience fewer side effects than systemic therapies.

Hannah says that these new technologies and methods to treat patients are currently in development. Some of these technologies are already in clinical trials. These tools are exciting enough by themselves, but there’s more to Lung Cancer Initiative

McEwen We are creating solutions that combine med tech, informatics, and mechanical devices with the biological or pharmaceutical treatment options that may be used to improve someone’s health. This is what motivates me every day to go to work. It’s the chance to help the disease. It’s an amazing privilege to work with diverse teams to accomplish that.

Hall Hannah is excited to see the Lung Cancer Initiative work to transform the lives and futures of millions of patients. She is working every day with her team, colleagues, and across Johnson & Johnson to make that happen as soon as she can.

Hannah McEwen heads Engineering Sciences for Johnson & Johnson’s Lung Cancer Initiative.

The Lung Cancer Initiative was established in 2018 in order to harness the full potential science and technology to improve the trajectory of this complicated disease.

This podcast was produced and funded by Scientific American Custom Media.

End of transcript

Learn more about Johnson & Johnson’s multi-disciplinary approach in fighting lung cancer.

Read More