The discovery of new biomarkers and accompanying diagnostics is increasing the personalization of cancer care. To advance research on biomarkers specific to radiation therapy, the Radiation Oncology Institute recently awarded grants to four research teams who are working to develop biomarkers that can be used to customize treatments for improved patient outcomes. The ROI selected biomarkers as the topic of its most recent request for proposals (RFP) because a greater investment in this type of research is needed to fully realize the potential of using biomarkers to personalize radiation therapy. Each of the award-winning investigative teams recently shared their thoughts on the importance of the new ROI Biomarkers for Radiation Oncology grants to their research and their patients.
While the use of biomarkers in radiation oncology is growing, there are many new avenues to explore, particularly for cancer types that are less commonly studied. Nina Sanford, MD, Assistant Professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, explains that “Many other grant funding mechanisms require extensive preliminary data, which can be difficult for junior investigators seeking to embark on a novel research path. We are very appreciative of support from the ROI - their funding will be transformative in initiating our study aiming to identify biomarkers of response to chemoradiation in anal cancer.” Dr. Sanford is collaborating with Wen Jiang, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor at MD Anderson Cancer Center, to develop a novel microscale biochip device to monitor disease progression and treatment response in anal cancer.
David Miyamoto, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor at Massachusetts General Hospital, is developing a liquid biopsy to detect and analyze circulating tumor cells in patients with muscle-invasive bladder cancer. “I am grateful to the ROI for funding to develop a new blood test to guide the use of bladder-preserving trimodality therapy (TMT) for bladder cancer. This important radiation-based alternative to radical cystectomy is often overlooked despite its inclusion in national guidelines, and hence it is difficult to get traditional grant funding for this area of research,” states Dr. Miyamoto. A biomarker that reliably and accurately identifies appropriate candidates for TMT could help increase clinical utilization.
Two talented radiation oncology trainees received grants to conduct investigations on biomarkers that are being supported by James D. Cox Research Awards. Ritsuko Komaki-Cox, MD, FASTRO, established the fund in honor of her late husband. “Jim and I really cared for our radiation oncology residents and fellows and their achievements, and I am proud that his legacy can live on through these awards that are supporting outstanding early career researchers who are working to improve outcomes for patients. I look forward to seeing the research results of these two projects published in peer-reviewed journals in the near future,” says Dr. Komaki-Cox.
Sonal Noticewala, MD, MAS, a Resident at MD Anderson Cancer Center, received one of the James D. Cox Research Awards to conduct a study of the microbiome in pancreatic cancer with mentor, Cullen Taniguchi, MD, PhD. Dr. Noticewala expects that “The ROI funding will allow me to unravel the role of the microbiome in the variable treatment responses of chemoradiation among patients with pancreatic cancer. I am thrilled to be able to carry out this innovative work with the guidance of Dr. Taniguchi and humbled and grateful to receive the Cox Award from visionaries like Dr. Komaki-Cox and the late Dr. Cox who have been staunch advocates for the academic growth of trainees.”
The other recipient of a James D. Cox Research Award this year is Hesham Elhalawani, MD, MSc, a Clinical Fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He and mentor Ayal Aizer, MD, MHS, are using radiomics to develop a decision-making tool to help diagnose radiation necrosis earlier. "I was truly amazed when the ROI announced its “Biomarkers for Radiation Oncology” RFP given the historically few funding opportunities for big data research in radiation oncology. The James D. Cox Research Award from the ROI will empower my research team to develop a virtual imaging biopsy for early detection of brain necrosis in recipients of brain radiation and immunotherapy. This way, I feel I am honoring Dr. Cox’s legacy of improving cancer patients’ longevity and quality of life via innovation," says Dr. Elhalawani.
The ROI, with the support of many generous donors, is proud to fund these four research teams who are forging new paths to understand how biomarkers can help identify which patients are most likely to benefit from radiation therapy and aid in the personalization of cancer care. These grants, along with the many others awarded over the years, are playing a vital role in transforming practice and heightening the critical role of radiation therapy in the treatment of cancer. To learn more about the Biomarkers for Radiation Oncology Award winners and all of the ROI’s grantees, visit the “Meet Our Researchers” section of the website.