Department of Radiation Oncology

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Recent Press Releases:

Shorter Course of Post-Op Radiation May Work Well for Prostate Cancer Patients

(October 28, 2021) Prostate cancer is highly treatable when caught early. In the United States, the 10-year survival rate is 98 percent. According to a study by the American Society for Radiation Oncology, fewer radiation treatments at higher doses following surgery may be a safe and effective treatment option for people with prostate cancer. Neha Vapiwala, MD, a professor of Radiation Oncology, who was not involved with the study, said that the shorter regimen has been a major concern among doctors and patients, but that the new findings offer “level-one evidence” that a shorter course can be delivered safely.

A FLASH Flood of Research Relating to Ultra-High Dose Rate Radiation Therapy

(October 26, 2021) In radiation oncology there is excitement about the delivery of radiation at much higher dose rates than typically used clinically. Constantinos Koumenis, PhD, the Richard H. Chamberlain Professor of Research Oncology, and Amit Maity, MD, PhD, the Morton M. Kligerman Professor and executive vice chair of the department of Radiation Oncology, provided commentary on the possibility of sparing normal tissues from injury with FLASH proton radiotherapy, as evidenced in pre-clinical studies, looking at the brain, intestine, and skin.

Men With Intermediate-Risk Prostate Cancer Experience Improved Sexual Function, Urinary Continence Following MRgFUS Therapy

(September 24, 2021) A recent study called ERASE demonstrated that patients with prostate cancer (PC) on active surveillance (AC) reported reduced PSA levels after a 12-week high-intensity interval training regimen. “Ultimately, the ERASE trial [was] well-constructed and demonstrates the power of a lifestyle intervention with far-reaching implications,” said Neha Vapiwala, MD, a professor of Radiation Oncology. Further, “the ERASE trial does empower patients with PC on AS to be in better physical, functional, and psychological shape for any future medical interventions they may need.”

Virtua, Penn Medicine to Bring Proton Therapy to South Jersey

(September 26, 2021) KYW Newsradio interviewed James Metz, MD, chair of Radiation Oncology, around the arrival of a new cancer killing device called a cyclotron to the region offering proton therapy to patients. The 10-foot wide, 90-ton, drum-shaped hunk of life-saving machinery is thanks to a partnership between Penn and Virtual Health. Metz conveyed that precision is the key to better outcomes, and that’s what the cyclotron does.

Penn Student-Led Podcast Helps First-Generation and Low-Income Doctors-in-Training Navigate Medical School

(September 23, 2021) Three first-generation low-income (FGLI) medical students at PSOM started a podcast called “Med Legs” in 2020 to share their experiences and tips navigating medical school. The episodes cover topics ranging from interviews to side jobs. Co-hosts Michaela Hitchner, Anitra Persaud, and Cecilia Zhou were featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the podcast, along with Neurology resident and former PSOM student Michael Perez, MD, who co-founded the FGLI student group Lift Us Up, and the group's faculty advisor Neha Vapiwala, MD, associate dean of Admissions and a professor of Radiation Oncology.

CAR T Cells Expressing a Natural RNA Can Activate the Body’s Own T Cells Against Solid Tumors

(September 3, 2021) CAR T cell therapy needs to recognize a specific target on cancer cells to kill them. Cancer cells do not always have the target, or they find ways to hide the target and stay invisible to CAR T cell attack. A new study from Penn Medicine, published in Cell, shows that RN7SL1, a naturally occurring RNA, can activate the body’s own natural T cells to seek out cancer cells that have escaped recognition by CAR T cells. This may help improve efforts to treat solid tumors, which represent most human cancers. According to Andy J. Minn, MD, PhD, a professor of Radiation Oncology and co-lead author of the study, “CAR T cells are like lone soldiers without backup. With the right tools, they can kickstart the body’s own immune system and target cancer cells missed with CAR T cells alone.”

Exercise Linked to Cardiorespiratory Benefit, Lower PSA Level in Men with Prostate Cancer

(August 30, 2021) According to a randomized study published in JAMA Oncology, exercise appeared associated with decreased PSA levels, PSA velocity and prostate cancer cell growth in men with localized prostate cancer under active surveillance. High-intensity interval training also may be an effective intervention to improve cardiorespiratory fitness among this patient population. Neha Vapiwala, MD, a professor of Radiation Oncology, stated that the ERASE trial empowers this patient population “to be in better physical, functional and psychological shape for any future medical interventions they may need.”

AI for Radiation Therapy Works, but Is it Fully Trusted?

(June 17, 2021) Neha Vapiwala, MD, a professor of Radiation Oncology, commented on a study that found that radiation treatment plans generated by artificial intelligence were deemed clinically acceptable. However, when put into clinical practice, many of those AI plans weren’t chosen by radiation oncologists. “You might follow the typical guidelines, and a treatment plan may look ‘perfect,’ but perhaps you’ve observed outcomes with patients in that particular scenario that you incorporate in your decision making and that may favor a non-automated approach,” she said.

"Synergistic” Immunotherapies Elicit Strong Attack Against Aggressive Brain Tumors

(June 15, 2021) A novel combination of immunotherapies activated a strong, anti-tumor immune response in notoriously hard-to-penetrate glioblastoma tumors, according to a new study led by Yi Fan, MD, PhD, an associate professor of Radiation Oncology. Immunotherapy holds great promise to treat solid tumors; however, current approaches face significant challenges with immunologically “cold” tumors that lock out T cells. The team found that combining a checkpoint inhibitor with approaches that target the protein IL-6 and CD40 allowed T cells to migrate into the tumor and attack. The approach doubled the survival in one preclinical mouse model and surprisingly induced complete tumor regression in another model. “This dual-targeting treatment may serve as an adjuvant therapy after standard of care, including surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, for GBM and other solid tumors,” Fan said. “And it could be feasible, convenient, and hopefully effective." The co-senior authors of this work also include Yanqing Anna Gong, PhD, a research assistant professor of Medicine, and Robert Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, director of the Abramson Cancer Center. The research team, including Stephen Bagley, MD, an assistant professor of Medicine, Steven Brem, MD, chief of Neurosurgical Oncology, and Fan are planning to initiate a human clinical trial.

Read the paper in Nature Communications



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