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Rogel awarded SPORE grant designed to further research on radiosensitization

Date Visible: 
09/14/2023 - 11:30am

Media contact: Anna Megdell, 734-764-2220 |  Patients may contact Cancer AnswerLine™ 800-865-1125

The grant will include projects on pancreas, brain and breast cancers, and will examine each disease using a different way of overcoming radiation resistance.

the Rogel Cancer Center building in the summer
Credit: Michigan Medicine

An inter-departmental group of researchers at the University of Michigan Health Rogel Cancer Center received a grant from the National Cancer Institute to further research on radiosensitization, the process of making tumors more vulnerable to radiation treatment.

The grant, worth $11.1M, is funded through NCI’s SPORE, or Specialized Program of Research Excellence, which are typically awarded to projects focused on a specific disease. This grant, however, will center around a cancer treatment approach – radiosensitization – and will look at how specific drugs make radiation more effective in locally advanced –neither surgically removeable nor metastatic—pancreas, brain and breast cancers.

“The hope is that each one of these projects will not only further research on that specific disease but will also illuminate general principles on how to overcome immune, metabolic and DNA repair obstacles that will lead to improved outcomes for multiple disease across the cancer spectrum,” said Theodore S. Lawrence, M.D., Ph.D., professor of radiation oncology and co-principal investigator on the grant.

A key feature of this SPORE is that all the radiation sensitizers are already FDA approved for clinical use, which will facilitate rapid translation of laboratory findings into clinical trials. “Each of these projects is led by a physician-scientist team that oversees the laboratory and clinical aspects of each project. The synergy created by coupling basic scientific programs with clinical research drives rationale clinical trial design that has the greatest likelihood to benefit our patients with cancer,” said Meredith Morgan, Ph.D., associate char for radiation and cancer biology and co-principal investigator of this SPORE.   

The grant includes projects from across the cancer center, engaging collaboration among over 30 Rogel members and across a multi-dimensional approach to research. The projects are:

  • Pancreas cancer and immunotherapy: Although immunotherapy has revolutionized cancer care, it has not been effective in pancreatic cancer.  This project will use the drug olaparib combined with radiation to make pancreas cancer susceptible to immune checkpoint blockade;
  • Brain cancer and metabolism: Glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain tumor, is rarely cured with standard treatment (radiation plus chemotherapy).  This project will use the medication mycophenolate mofetil (CellceptTM), that decreases a key metabolite, GTP, which causes radiation resistance;
  • Breast cancer and repair of DNA damage: Women with breast cancer and multiple positive lymph nodes are at high risk for local recurrence even after standard treatment with chemotherapy and surgery followed by radiation therapy.  This project proposes to use CDK4/6 inhibitors, which prevent the breast cancer cells from repairing radiation-induced DNA damage.