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Vanderbilt-Ingram Members to Present Research at Annual ASTRO Meeting

  Dennis Hallahan
  Dennis Hallahan, M.D

By Heather Newman

23 abstracts from Vanderbilt physicians and scientists were accepted for presentation at the annual meeting of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology (ASTRO).

The week-long meeting, which wrapped up Nov. 9 in Philadelphia, brings together oncologists involved in radiation therapy to share new scientific findings and technical advancements to improve patient outcomes.

Vanderbilt abstracts included a presentation from Zhaozhong Han, Ph.D., assistant professor and radiation oncologist, Dennis Hallahan, M.D., chairman of the Radiation Oncology Center and Ingram Professor of Cancer Research, and Halina Onishko. Their abstract, titled “Radiation Sensitizing Effect of Artemisinin, an Old Anti-Malaria Drug,” explains how the researchers determined that the old 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.

Hallahan 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,” said Hallahan.

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 that was presented at the annual meeting involved looking 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.