By Gita Suneja, MD, MS, and Robert C. Miller, MD, MBA, FASTRO
The Radiation Oncology Institute (ROI) is delighted to announce new research awards to four teams of investigators who seek to understand how biomarkers can be used to optimize outcomes for patients receiving radiation therapy. A record-breaking number of applications were submitted in response to this request for proposals, highlighting the promise that many in the radiation oncology community see for biomarkers to transform the field. The ROI always seeks to fund the highest quality research that will have an impact on practice and patient care, and these new grants are the result of the ROI’s comprehensive and diligent peer-review process. The awarded projects utilize a variety of scientific methodologies and focus on four different disease sites, many of which are new within the ROI research portfolio. The following four research teams are the recipients of this year’s Biomarkers for Radiation Oncology Awards.
David Miyamoto, MD, PhD, and his team at the Massachusetts General Hospital will develop a new blood test to detect and analyze circulating tumor cells in patients with muscle-invasive bladder cancer. This non-invasive liquid biopsy test will help identify patients who can be effectively treated with bladder-preserving trimodality therapy, a combination of radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and limited surgery that avoids removing the entire bladder. The test could also be used to monitor patients for recurrences after therapy.
Nina Sanford, MD, and Wen Jiang, MD, PhD, will be co-Principal Investigators on a project to develop a novel microscale biochip device to monitor disease progression and treatment response in anal cancer. Their innovative technology will be used to capture circulating exosomes and to detect a microRNA specific to anal cancer in patient blood samples before, during and after chemoradiation that would allow for greater personalization of treatment. Dr. Sanford specializes in the care of gastrointestinal cancers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Dr. Jiang studies microfluidic and nanoengineering at MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Two ASTRO Members-in-Training are receiving special recognition as recipients of James D. Cox Research Awards. Their grants are supported by generous gifts made by Ritsuko Komaki-Cox, MD, FASTRO, in honor of her late husband and their shared commitment to training the next generation of radiation oncologists.
Hesham Elhalawani, MD, MSc, a clinical fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, will use radiomics to develop a decision-making tool to help diagnose radiation necrosis (RN) earlier in patients being treated with immunotherapy and stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) for brain metastases. Along with mentor Ayal Aizer, MD, MHS, Dr. Elhalawani will use artificial intelligence to conduct a longitudinal analysis of MRIs performed before and after SRS to identify imaging biomarkers to predict which patients are most likely to develop RN.
Sonal Noticewala, MD, MAS, a resident at MD Anderson Cancer Center, will explore the role of the microbiome in how patients with pancreatic cancer respond to neoadjuvant chemoradiation. Together with mentor Cullen Taniguchi, MD, PhD, Dr. Noticewala will examine bacterial profiles in paired tissue samples of pancreatic tumors and peri-tumoral regions to define a signature microbiome associated with patient response to chemoradiation. They aim to show that differences in the microbiome can account for variations in treatment response and lay the groundwork for future studies that target the microbiome to optimize treatment and improve outcomes.
Together with the support of donors, we are investing in these talented investigators who are exploring how biomarkers can advance radiation oncology, and we look forward to sharing their progress and outcomes with you in the future. Be sure to keep up with the ROI’s latest research news by visiting our website or following us on Twitter and Facebook.