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Promise and Progress - A Decade of Discovery

Promise & Progress - A Spectrum of Achievements

A Decade of Discovery

Date: January 15, 2015

Mouse in beam
Small animal radiation research platform


  • 2004 > IMRT (Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy) Program began to deliver high-precision radiation that conforms to the three dimensional shapes of tumors and delivers higher and well defined doses of radiation to tumors, and even specific areas within tumors, while minimizing radiation to surrounding normal tissue.


  • 2005 > Physicist John Wong pioneered new radiation treatment research methods and models.  Dr. Wong constructed miniature versions of the equipment used to treat patients to perform never before done animal research models. These models allow researchers to study the best ways to target radiation-based treatments to tumors and, at the same time, prevent damage to normal cells.


  • 2006 > Director Ted DeWeese’s research revealed that lower doses of radiation may kill more cancer cells by eluding a protein called ATM, a damage detection mechanism for cancer cells. Researchers are now exploring whether using a drug to block ATM could trick cancer cells into ignoring the damage signals so that radiation effectively destroys more cancer cells.


  • 2007 > The stereotactic body radiation therapy program began.  This knifeless surgery uses highly focused beams of radiation to ablate tumors.


  • 2008 > Molecular Radiation Sciences research accelerated under the leadership of Marikki Laiho who began to decipher the biology of DNA-damage response to radiation therapy and how cells sense and repair this damage.


  • 2009 > Clinical Director Danny Song developed a computer-assisted version of brachytherapy, a prostate cancer therapy that uses radioactive seeds inserted in the prostate to kill cancer cells. The innovation allows for more precise placement of seeds. 


  • Richard Zellars used a shortened course and precisely targeted method         of radiation treatment, known as partial breast irradiation, and     simultaneous treatment with chemotherapy to reduce toxicity and improve patient outcomes.


  • 2010 > An international team of collaborators led by Marikki Laiho developed a technique to keep normal and cancerous tissue surgically removed from the prostate alive and functioning for up to a week. This research, which allows investigators to test anticancer drugs on live tissue, is helping experts better understand the biology of prostate cancer and speeding the development of personalized therapies.


  • 2011 > Pediatric radiation oncologist Stephanie Terezakis led the first-ever in-depth, scientifically based safety analysis of radiation oncology and reported that a combination of several well-known safety procedures could greatly reduce patient-harming errors in the use of radiation to treat cancer. She and collaborators determined that a combination of approximately six common quality assurance (QA) measures would have prevented more than 90 percent of the potential incidents. 


  • 2012 > Physician-scientist Phuoc Tran deciphered the relationship between a cancer growth-promoting gene called c-myc  and the ability of cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins to decrease the risk of advanced prostate cancer.  In laboratory studies, Dr. Tran showed that high-dose statins reduce c-myc activity.


  • 2013 > Marikki Laiho uncovered a potential way to stop cancer cells in their tracks. The research focuses on the RNA polymerase pathway, POL I, which is necessary for mutant cancer genes to communicate with cells.  In studies using human cancer cell lines, a new, never-described compound known as BMH-21 destroyed this critical communication pathway.  These early studies hold great promise because without this transcription machinery, cancer cells cannot recover or function.


  • 2014 > In an interdisciplinary research collaboration, Ted DeWeese and colleagues revealed that testosterone, a hormone prostate cancer cells need to survive, can also form breaks in the DNA that would make cancer cells more vulnerable to treatment with radiation therapy. The researchers are studying whether short pulses of testosterone, enough to stimulate the breaks but not so much to stimulate the cancer, followed by radiation therapy may cause even more DNA breaks to overwhelm and kill prostate cancer cells.

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