June 25, 2015

Daniels receives research grant from Knights Templar Eye Foundation to study retinoblastoma treatment

Vanderbilt investigator Anthony Daniels has received a grant from the Knights Templar Eye Foundation to develop new, safe and effective treatments for retinoblastoma, the most common ocular cancer in children.

Anthony Daniels, M.D., M.S.c., left, discusses his vision research with visiting members of the Knights Templar Eye Foundation. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Anthony Daniels, M.D., M.S.c., assistant professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Cancer Biology, and Radiation Oncology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), recently received a career-starter research grant from the Knights Templar Eye Foundation for $60,000.

The funds will allow Daniels, also director of Ocular Oncology at the Vanderbilt Eye Institute, and his team to further their work in developing new, safe and effective treatments for retinoblastoma, the most common ocular cancer in children.

Daniels performs a novel procedure called intra-arterial chemotherapy, or IAC, that allows a high concentration of chemotherapy to be administered directly to the tumor-bearing eye while limiting the toxic effects on the rest of the body.

The team recently introduced an additional treatment called intravitreal chemotherapy targeting vitreous seeding caused when tiny pieces of a large tumor break off into smaller tumor seeds inside the eye. Intravitreal treatments call for the therapeutic agents to be directly injected into the eye.

Currently, VUMC is the only center in the region and one of a few centers in the country offering these advanced therapies.

The funds from the grant will support Daniels’ work with IAC, intravitreal chemotherapy and other emerging therapeutic approaches to retinoblastoma care. The project dovetails nicely with his clinical focus, he said.

“That is one of the advantages of being a clinician scientist,” said Daniels. “I can bring observations from the bedside back to the bench to allow my team to develop better, more effective treatments for the diseases I treat in the clinic.

“The idea is to focus on research projects that are not just intellectually interesting in the lab, but on those that can have a rapid translational impact for the patient.”

Conventional therapy for patients diagnosed with retinoblastoma includes systemic chemotherapy, external beam radiation and/or surgical removal of the eye.

Daniels and his team are on track to radically change the way the disease is treated. IAC is performed on an outpatient basis and delivers a high concentration of chemotherapy directly to the tumor via the ophthalmic artery, using a catheter that is inserted into the groin and threaded to the eye under X-ray guidance. The procedure is performed by Michael Froehler, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Radiology, who is also a collaborator on the research grant.

In this way, IAC is able to limit the adverse effects typically associated with systemic chemotherapy, Daniels explained.

“Dr. Daniels is one of the most talented young physician scientists in the vision research world,” said Paul Sternberg Jr., M.D., George W. Hale Professor of Ophthalmology and chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. “This grant is a well-deserved recognition of his promising research into innovative treatments for retinoblastoma.”

Daniels’ mentor, Ann Richmond, Ph.D., Ingram Professor of Cancer Research, vice chair of the Department of Cancer Biology and associate director for Research Education at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, agreed.

“Dr. Daniels’ cutting-edge research is poised to make Vanderbilt a world leader in the development of new IAC treatment drugs and will have significant translational implications in the treatment of pediatric cancers.”

The Knights Templar Eye Foundation Inc. supports research that can help launch the careers of clinical or basic researchers committed to the prevention and cure of potentially blinding diseases in infants and children.

The foundation’s mission is to improve vision through research, education and supporting access to care. The organization spent more than $140 million on research, patient care and education. Grants totaling more than $23 million have been awarded to researchers working in the fields of pediatric ophthalmology and ophthalmic genetics.