By Tyler Beck, PhD, ASTRO Scientific Program Officer
Each year, ASTRO awards early-career development and several seed grants to a few talented investigators to support their research. For the past several years, grantees have been honored during an Awardees Breakfast at ASTRO’s Annual Meeting. This year, ASTRO recognized the 2018 grant winners, as well as some of our previous award winners, by asking them to give updates about their research as part of a session we called the Research Spotlight. The session was held on Tuesday, October 23, and was moderated by the 2017-2018 chair of ASTRO’s Research Grants Evaluation committee, Gary Kao, MD, PhD. Considering the success of this new session, we hope to continue to highlight our former awardees at special sessions during future annual meetings.
We’ve been working hard to offer more opportunities to fund research in radiation oncology. If you are a researcher, please go to www.astro.org/fundingopps
for more information on how to apply for one of our 2019 grant opportunities.
The following investigators presented summaries of their research at the 2018 Research Spotlight session:
Stephanie Markovina, MD, PhD,
is an assistant professor of radiation oncology at Washington University School of Medicine, and the recipient of the 2016 ASTRO Junior Faculty Award. She has been building on work that she presented at the ASTRO 2017 Annual Meeting and provided some mechanistic insight into why SERPINB3 affects the radiosensitivity of cervical cancer cells. These findings may provide a clue to tackling radioresistant cervical cancer in patients who may otherwise recur and die from their disease.
Erina Vlashi, PhD,
the recipient of the 2017 ASTRO Junior Faculty Award, is currently an assistant professor in the department of radiation oncology at the University of California, Los Angeles. She earned her doctorate studying high-affinity ligand-targeted drugs for cancer therapy and then studied tumor heterogeneity and cancer stem cells in the laboratory of Frank Pajonk, MD, PhD. Her current research focus is to understand the metabolic-stemness loop that appears to be fueled by ionizing radiation, with the goal of identifying druggable targets to improve the efficacy of radiation therapy for breast cancer and other cancers.
Devarati Mitra, MD, PhD,
is a clinical fellow in radiation oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital, and the recipient of one of three 2017 ASTRO Resident Seed Grants. Her research focuses on using several carcinogen-associated mouse models of head and neck cancer to investigate how radiation can be used to manipulate the tumor microenvironment and potentially improve response to anti-PD1-based immunotherapy.
Shushan Rana, MD,
is an instructor in the radiation oncology department of Oregon Health and Science University and also a recipient of the 2017 Resident Seed Grant. Dr. Rana presented his research on the regulation of tumor angiogenesis and endothelial inflammation upon ionizing radiation by vascular specific microRNA-15a. This work may provide further insight into optimizing the tumor vasculature to enhance radiosensitivity and immune infiltrate function.
Kekoa Taparra, PhD,
is a medical student at the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine and one of two recipients of the 2017 ASTRO Minority Summer Fellowship. He received his doctorate from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, training under the mentorship of Phuoc Tran, MD, PhD, in the department of radiation oncology. Kekoa’s research project focused on the clinical problem of reducing cardiac toxicity for Hodgkin lymphoma patients receiving mediastinal radiation. Under the guidance of Nadia Laack, MD, MS, his team found that combining coronary angiography and proton therapy could spare cardiac substructures from excess radiation exposure.
Michael LeCompte, MS,
is a third-year medical student at Wake Forest School of Medicine and also received the Minority Summer Fellowship in 2017. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Master of Science in Biomedical Science at Wake Forest University Graduate School. His current work focuses on metabolic disorders and CNS malignancies, including the role of metformin in outcomes of brain metastasis patients treated with stereotactic radiosurgery.
Joseph Contessa, MD, PhD,
(pictured) is an associate professor of therapeutic radiology and pharmacology and the Director of the Central Nervous System Radiotherapy Program at the Yale Cancer Center. He received ASTRO’s Junior Faculty Award in 2009 and has led a successful research career since then. His current research focuses on the role of receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) and other cell surface receptors in mediating therapeutic resistance to ionizing radiation. During his presentation, he reviewed recent insights into targeting the function of glycoproteins and enhancing tumor cell radiosensitivity.