November 10, 2006

Radiation oncology meet spotlights VICC discoveries

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Photo by Susan Urmy

Radiation oncology meet spotlights VICC discoveries

Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer was well represented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology (ASTRO).

The weeklong conference, which wrapped up Thursday, Nov. 16, in Philadelphia, brought together oncologists involved in radiation therapy to share new scientific findings and technical advancements to improve patient outcomes.

Dennis Hallahan, M.D., chair of the Radiation Oncology Center, said the ASTRO meeting is an opportunity to showcase discoveries made at Vanderbilt-Ingram.

“Vanderbilt students, residents and postdoctoral fellows are extremely productive, which has improved our visibility at this national meeting of both ASTRO and radiation research.”

Hallahan, Zhaozhong Han, Ph.D., and Halina Onishko, presented an abstract, titled “Radiation Sensitizing Effect of Artemisinin, an Old Anti-Malaria Drug,” that explained how an older anti-malaria drug can sensitize tumor cells to radiation, enhancing the benefits of radiation during cancer treatment.

The researchers say it was found to be successful in both human and animal tumor cell samples of lung cancer and glioblastoma, or brain cancer.

Other Vanderbilt abstracts included work involving three drugs used to treat HIV. The protease inhibitors amprenavir, nelfinavir and saquinavir could have a new role in radiation treatment for cancer. The drugs are already known to help sensitize tumor cells to radiation treatment and inhibit angiogenesis, but now, Vanderbilt researchers say, their work demonstrates for the first time that these protease inhibitors can enhance the effects of radiation on vascular endothelium. Of the medications tested, researchers reported the best results from nelfinavir.

Another study from experts at Vanderbilt-Ingram looked at aromatase inhibitors, commonly used in treating breast cancer, in conjunction with radiation for treatment of pancreatic, glioblastoma and lung cancers. The study found aromatase is frequently expressed in each of these cancer types and inhibitors decrease the growth of these cancer cells. The study also found the combination of radiation and aromatase inhibitors increased apoptosis, or cell death, of pancreatic cancer cells.

According to the American Cancer Society, nearly two-thirds of all cancer patients will receive radiation therapy. Breast, prostate and lung cancers make up more than half of all cancers treated with radiation therapy.

ASTRO also recently announced the recipients of its Residents and Fellows in Radiation Oncology Research Seed Grant, which included Vanderbilt-Ingram Radiation Oncology resident Roberto Diaz, M.D., Ph.D. Grants of up to $30,000 are awarded for one-year projects to support residents or fellows who are planning a career that focuses on research. Diaz's research project is titled “Rapid Assessment of Cancer Susceptibility to Molecular Targeted Therapy.”

ASTRO's membership is comprised of radiation oncologists, nurses, medical physicists, radiation therapists, dosimetrists and biologists, and is the largest radiation oncology organization of its kind.