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ASTRO Blog

ASTRO Blog

New ROI Awards Leverage Biomarkers for Radiation Oncology

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.

Posted: May 5, 2021 | 0 comments


What Will Your Legacy to Radiation Oncology Be?

By J. Frank Wilson, MD, FASTRO
ROI Trustee and Development Committee Co-chair

Making a legacy gift to the Radiation Oncology Institute (ROI), ASTRO’s Research Foundation, is a way for you to “give back” to your profession. You can plant a seed that will grow to support research that improves patient outcomes and enhances radiation oncology practice into the future. A legacy gift is one that you document now but will benefit the ROI in the future. Your legacy gift will help the best and brightest researchers in radiation oncology continue to advance the field and improve cancer care for years to come.

I am pleased to announce that Timothy Guertin, a former ROI Board member and retired Varian executive, has provided a generous challenge grant of $25,000 to encourage legacy gifts to the ROI in 2021. When you document a legacy gift of $2,500 or more to the ROI, $2,500 of the challenge grant from Mr. Guertin will be designated in your honor in recognition of your commitment to radiation oncology research.

This Legacy Challenge allows you to share your intent to include the ROI in your will or make a legacy gift to the ROI through another vehicle. Simply complete the planned giving intent form and submit it to the ROI. You will be recognized for your generosity today through the challenge grant, while investing in the future of radiation oncology research.

Theodore Lawrence, MD, PhD, FASTRO, is the first person to meet the ROI Legacy Challenge. A sum of $2,500 from the challenge grant has been designated in honor of Dr. Lawrence for his commitment. Fifteen years ago, Dr. Lawrence helped found the ROI and facilitated its growth from concept to creation to become a flourishing research foundation yielding results. Dr. Lawrence served on the ROI Board of Trustees from its beginning until December 2020, when he stepped down. His legacy gift has been one of his many acts of leadership.

We are excited to welcome Dr. Lawrence to the ROI Legacy Circle, the recognition group for those who make legacy gifts to the ROI. He joins me and my wife, Vera, along with Christopher Rose, MD, FASTRO, in making legacy gifts to help ensure that the ROI can continue to fulfill its mission to heighten the critical role of radiation therapy in the treatment of cancer well into the future. We hope you will consider making a legacy gift to the ROI in the way that best fits your estate plans.

Many legacy gifts are revocable, and you can change your mind later if your financial situation changes. These gifts include providing for the ROI in your will or naming the ROI as a beneficiary for your retirement plan, insurance policy or donor-advised fund. These gifts can be specific amounts or percentages and may be contingent on other considerations. Other legacy gifts that are irrevocable have significant tax benefits. Such gifts include Charitable Gift Annuities, Charitable Remainder Trusts and Charitable Lead Trusts, which can provide a stream of income for you or another individual now or in the future.

Making your future gifts with non-cash assets may be another consideration. If you have highly appreciated securities, using the stock to fund any of these gifts can result in tax savings. You can also make a gift of a fully paid life insurance policy that you, perhaps, no longer need. In that case, the ROI becomes the owner and the beneficiary of the life insurance policy, and you receive a tax deduction for the transfer of ownership. More information about each of these options is available on the ROI’s planned giving website.

When you meet the Legacy Challenge by informing the ROI of your intent, you will also become a member of the Legacy Circle and will be recognized on the ROI website, at the ROI booth at the ASTRO Annual Meeting and in publications, if you so choose. We encourage you to allow us to recognize you, because in doing so, you are encouraging others to follow your example. However, if you do not want your name to appear on recognition lists, you can choose to make your commitment anonymously.

Making a legacy gift to the ROI is a way to show your dedication to the future of radiation oncology.

If you have questions or need assistance, please contact Janet L. Hedrick by email or at 703-839-7340.

The information in this article is not intended as legal or tax advice. For such advice, please consult an attorney or tax advisor.

Posted: February 9, 2021 | 0 comments


ROI Spotlights Biomarkers in New Funding Opportunity

by Gita Suneja, MD, MS, and Robert Miller, MD, MBA, FASTRO

We all aim to provide our patients with the best, most personalized care possible. Innovative research has identified a new frontier of cancer care: harnessing genomic and molecular data to develop treatment plans tailored to each unique patient with the potential to enhance treatment efficacy and limit toxicity. The use of biomarkers is growing within radiation oncology; however, more research is required to optimize biomarker use. To meet this need, the Radiation Oncology Institute (ROI) has selected “Biomarkers for Radiation Oncology” as the topic for its new request for proposals (RFP) to fund research grants aiming to improve patient outcomes in cancer treatment or improve the survivorship experience through the application of biomarkers.

The intent of the ROI’s new RFP is to solicit innovative ideas to leverage biomarkers for radiation oncology to enhance patient selection, to develop personalized treatment regimes, to quantify outcomes and manage toxicity. The grants, which will be announced next spring, will range from $50,000 up to $150,000 for projects with a larger scope. We invite all eligible applicants, including residents, to pursue this exciting new funding opportunity.

To apply, you must submit a Letter of Intent (LOI) through ProposalCentral by 5:00 p.m. Eastern time on November 16, 2020. The ROI Research Committee will review the LOIs and notify selected applicants to submit a full proposal in December. For examples of responsive projects, selection criteria and details on eligibility and how to apply, download the complete RFP.

As ASTRO’s research foundation, the ROI fills a special niche in funding for radiation oncology research, bringing together stakeholders from across the field to identify the highest priority topics for research that will heighten the critical role of radiation therapy in the treatment of cancer. The ROI is unique in that we develop a new RFP annually, allowing us to focus our funding resources on issues of immediate importance to the radiation oncology community. This year we were fortunate to have the added input from the ROI’s new Corporate Research Forum, a group of industry leaders that support the ROI; there was strong consensus among everyone involved in the RFP development process that biomarkers is a key area of research for radiation oncology right now.

We are eager to see all your creative research ideas to leverage biomarkers for radiation oncology with the potential to transform practice and improve outcomes for patients. Don’t miss your chance to apply for this year’s ROI funding opportunity by submitting your letter of intent by November 16.

Gita Suneja, MD, MS, is chair of the ROI Research Committee and vice-chair of CHEDI, and Robert Miller, MD, MBA, FASTRO, is vice-chair of the ROI Research Committee and editor-in-chief of Advances in Radiation Oncology.

Posted: October 6, 2020 | 0 comments


The SECURE Act and Its Impact on You and Your Future

By the ROI Development Committee

The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act was enacted in December 2019 and was effective as of January 1, 2020. This legislation marks the most significant changes to retirement security since the Pension Protection Act of 2006.

The SECURE Act has three major components. First, you can now contribute to your Individual Retirement Account (IRA) past the age of 70½. Second, you do not have to take the required minimum distribution (RMD) until the age of 72. And third, most non-spouse IRA and other retirement account beneficiaries must withdraw the entire amount within 10 years.

Prior to the SECURE Act, you could not contribute to your IRA past the age of 70½. This age limit has been repealed. Thus, you can save for retirement for a longer period of time to build up your retirement account. The SECURE Act changed the age at which you must start taking RMDs from your retirement account from 70½ to 72. This change gives your account additional time to grow. Notably, for those born before July 1, 1949, the previous rules apply. Contributors who turned 70½ in 2019 or earlier will have to continue to take required minimum distributions.

But you do not need to wait until you are 72 to make contributions to those causes you care about. If you are 70½ or older, you can still transfer any amount up to $100,000 per year directly from your IRA to a qualified nonprofit, tax-free. The gift does not count as income, so you benefit whether you itemize on your tax returns or not. The Radiation Oncology Institute (ROI), ASTRO’s research foundation, is a qualified nonprofit and can assist you in making this gift. The ROI will provide a sample letter for you to customize and use to communicate with your IRA administrator. By making a gift to the ROI now, you can see the impact of that gift on research in radiation oncology.

Making a gift from your IRA is an opportunity to leverage your most highly taxed assets. When IRAs are passed to loved ones, distributions from these accounts are subject to income taxes at the beneficiary’s ordinary income tax rate, which can be as high as 37% plus state income tax, depending on where they live. Rather than leaving these heavily taxed assets to family, consider giving from these accounts now and letting the value of other assets grow and eventually pass to loved ones.

Spouses can continue to stretch payments from inherited IRAs and other retirement accounts over their lifetimes. However, most non-spousal beneficiaries (such as grown children) must withdraw the entire IRA balance by the end of 10 years. If you do not want your non-spousal beneficiaries to receive their entire IRA proceeds by the end of 10 years because it creates tax issues for your loved ones, you may want to consider creating a Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT). You can stretch your inheritance by naming a CRT as a beneficiary of an IRA, and the IRA funds the trust after your death. The trust is designed to pay one or more beneficiaries’ income for life (or a term of up to 20 years) and at the end pay a remainder benefit to a charity of your choice. This will allow the beneficiaries to receive payments past the 10 years.

With the SECURE Act, some provisions of retirement plans change, but many aspects remain the same. You can name the ROI as a beneficiary of your IRA. You are encouraged to notify the ROI of your designation so that the ROI can thank you and can ensure that your gift is used exactly as you intended.

If you have questions about the impact of the SECURE Act, we encourage you to make an appointment with your financial advisor. The advisor can answer other questions you have and can review your plans (including your beneficiary designation) and ensure that your wishes are documented.

The information in this article is not intended as legal or tax advice. For such advice, please consult an attorney or tax advisor. References to tax rates include federal taxes only and are subject to change.

2020 ROI Development Committee:

J. Frank Wilson, MD, FASTRO, co-chair, Medical College of Wisconsin; Timothy R. Williams, MD, FASTRO, co-chair, Boca Radiation Oncology Associates; Shauna Campbell, DO, Cleveland Clinic; Drew Moghanaki, MD, MPH, Atlanta VA Health Care System; Jason Efstathiou, MD, PhD, Massachusetts General Hospital; Daniel Moore, Radiation Business Solutions; Charles Enke, MD, University of Nebraska Medical Center; Arul Mahadevan, MD, Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, Seacoast Cancer Center; Jenna Kahn, MD, VCU Medical Center; Douglas Martin, MD, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center; Join Y. Luh, MD, Dr. Russel Pardoe Radiation Oncology Center, St. Joseph Hospital; Malika Siker, MD, Medical College of Wisconsin

Posted: February 11, 2020 | 0 comments