Department News Archive

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

8th Annual Penn Proton Course

Early Bird Pricing Starts Today!
The first 25 people to register for Regular Early Bird Admission without the use of discount codes will receive the opportunity to attend a special live Q&A with Richard L. Maughan, Ph.D., Jim Metz, MD, and Neha Vapiwala, MD FACR, happening on Monday, December 6, 2021.

2021 Global Health Catalyst (GHC) Summit

November 11th-13th, 2021
This year, for the first time, the GHC Summit will be hosted by the University of Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins

The GHC Summit’s main goal has been to have an impact in curbing the growing global burden of cancer and other diseases, with a major focus on collaborations to address disparities.  These summits have led to the establishment of major new initiatives such as developing cancer centers in different LMIC, supported education, and the training of thousands of trainees to build the workforce needed to strengthen LMIC healthcare systems.   Participants to the Summit come from all across North America, Europe, Africa, and other world regions who are interested in advancing disease prevention.  In addition, participants include leaders from the World Health Organization or international health agencies, industry, sports and entertainment, ambassadors, policymakers, USA congressional leaders, and Nobel Prize Laureate. 

Penn Medicine Receives $4.9 Million Grant to Improve Uptake of Cancer Care Best Practices

(August 4, 2020) While extensive research has pointed toward ways to ensure patients receive evidence-based cancer care, putting these solutions into widespread practice can be a complex, challenging, and inefficient process. Now, a new grant awarded to the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania will help identify methods to bridge this gap, improving uptake of state-of-the-science care that can have a significant impact for patients. Dr. Justin Bekelman, is one of the three primary investigators for this NCI Cancer Moonshot grant.

Targeting Stromal Cells May Help Overcome Treatment Resistance in Glioblastoma

(Feb. 26, 2020) The deadly brain cancer glioblastoma (GBM) is often resistant to chemotherapy and radiation, but new research from the Perelman School of Medicine  and Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center shows targeting stromal cells – the cells that serve as the connective tissue of the organs – may be an effective way of overcoming that resistance. Read the full article with senior author, Yi Fan, MD, PhD here.

Penn Medicine Shows Giving Entire Course of Radiation Treatment in Less Than a Second is Feasible

(Jan. 9, 2020) Researchers in the Roberts Proton Therapy Center have shown that using proton radiation to generate the dosage needed to theoretically give a cancer patient their entire course of radiotherapy in less than a second is feasible. The work was led by James M. Metz, MD, director of the Roberts Proton Therapy Center and chair of Radiation Oncology, Constantinos Koumenis, PhD, a professor of Research Oncology, Keith A. Cengel, MD, PhD, an associate professor of Radiation Oncology, and Eric Diffenderfer, PhD, an assistant professor of Radiation Oncology. Read the report published today in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, and Physics 

Giving Common Antibiotic Before Radiation May Help Body Fight Cancer

(Dec. 9, 2019) Research led by Andrea Facciabene, PhD, an associate professor of Radiation Oncology, and Constantinos Koumenis, PhD, a professor of Radiation Oncology, found the antibiotic vancomycin alters the gut microbiome in a way that can help prime the immune system to more effectively attack tumor cells after radiation therapy. Read it here in JCI.

How Ultrahigh-Dose Radiation Therapy, Interferon, and CAR T Cells May Boost Immunotherapy Effectiveness

(Sept. 25, 2019) The ASCO Post talked with Andy J. Minn, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Radiation Oncology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Director of the Mark Foundation Center for Immunotherapy, Immune Signaling, and Radiation at the Abramson Cancer Center, about how these laboratory studies may improve the effectiveness of cancer immunotherapy and potentially change treatment paradigms.

Radiation May Lower Potential for Side Effects of CAR T Therapy in Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

(Sept. 17, 2019) “Our findings suggest that not only does radiation not interfere with the efficacy of CAR T, it may even carry a benefit for NHL patients,” said the study’s senior author John Plastaras, MD, PhD, an associate professor of Radiation Oncology at Penn.

Two Studies Show Promise, Safety of Proton Therapy in the Brain in Children with Cancer

(Sept. 16, 2019)  From improving outcomes in children with brain cancer to lowering the risk of damage to the brainstem in children with central nervous system tumors, a pair of new studies published today add to the growing body of research showing the potential benefits of proton therapy. Both studies were led by Christine Hill-Kayser, MD, an associate professor of Radiation Oncology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, a member of Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center, and a pediatric oncologist in the Cancer Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). Read the papers here: Pediatric Blood & CancerActa Oncologica

Hypofractionated Proton Therapy Safe, Effective Among Men with Prostate Cancer

(July 10, 2019) Treating prostate cancer with higher doses of proton therapy over a shorter amount of time leads to similar outcomes when compared to standard dose levels and treatments and is safe for patients, according to new research led by Neha Vapiwala, MD, an associate professor of Radiation Oncology, and Amardeep Grewal, MD, assistant chief resident in Radiation Oncology.

Penn team finds new path to tumor death in mouse models of lymphoma and colon cancer

(July 7, 2019) Research led by Constantinos Koumenis, PhD, vice chair and research division director of Radiation Oncology, shows blocking activation of ATF4 can cause cancer cells to grow too quickly and die from the resulting stress in mouse models. Read the article in Nature Cell Biology.

One Simple Change Cut Unnecessary Imaging for Cancer Patients in Half

(June 27, 2019) Simply introducing a default physician order — a “nudge” — into electronic health records (EHRs) cut the use of unnecessary daily imaging in half during palliative radiation therapy sessions for patients with advanced cancer, according to a Penn Medicine study published in JAMA Oncology. 

Penn Receives $12 Million Grant to Study Connection Between Radiation and Immunotherapies

(June 3, 2019) A $12 million grant will help researchers at the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania pursue the next generation of cancer treatments. Five specific projects will bring together multidisciplinary teams of basic science and clinical researchers to answer key questions. “These projects have the chance to change the paradigm when it comes to cancer treatment,” said the center’s director Andy J. Minn, MD, PhD.

Proton Therapy Lowers Risk of Side-Effects Compared to Conventional Radiation

(May 22, 2019) Cancer patients getting proton therapy instead of traditional photon radiation are at a significantly lower risk of experiencing side-effects from their radiation therapy, while cure rates are almost identical between the two groups. Findings will be presented at the 2019 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting in Chicago (Abstract #6521)

Cancer Patients Can Now Use Skin Creams During Radiation Therapy

(October 18, 2018) Contrary to the advice most cancer patients receive when they go through radiation treatment, topical skin treatments, unless applied very heavily, do not increase the radiation dose to the skin and can be used in moderation before daily radiation treatments. A new study from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania found that while 91 percent of clinicians surveyed said they advised patients to avoid these skin treatments and 83 percent of patients surveyed said they’d received this guidance from their doctors, testing showed there was no difference in the radiation skin dose with or without these creams. Read their findings in JAMA Oncology

Additional Inhibitor Can Help Anti-VEGF Therapy Overcome Resistance in Deadly Brain Cancer

(August 27, 2018) A team led by senior author Yi Fan, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of Radiation Oncology at Penn, analyzed human glioblastoma specimens and found VEGF receptor expression was reduced in tumor-associated endothelial cells – the cells that line the interior surface of the blood vessels. “This could be the key to solving the biggest problem in the field of anti-vascular cancer therapies,” Fan said. “Tumors are highly resistant to anti-VEGF therapies alone, but our study shows the flaw is in the current treatment, not the concept itself.” Click here to read more.

Justin Bekelman Wins 2018 American Cancer Society Cancer Control Award

(August, 2018) Penn Medicine Oncologist, LDI Senior Fellow and Associate Professor of Radiation Oncology Justin Bekelman has been named winner of the 2018 Cancer Control Award from the Philadelphia Market of the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Two Ways Cancer Resists Treatment Are Actually Connected, with One Activating the Other

(December 18, 2019) Penn study identifies chain reaction in cells that helps cancer survive treatments that target BRAF mutations. Researchers published their findings in Cancer Discovery 

Additional Inhibitor Can Help Anti-VEGF Therapy Overcome Resistance in Deadly Brain Cancer

(August 27, 2018) A team led by senior author Yi Fan, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of Radiation Oncology at Penn, analyzed human glioblastoma specimens and found VEGF receptor expression was reduced in tumor-associated endothelial cells – the cells that line the interior surface of the blood vessels

From Mindfulness to Medical Education: Penn Radiation Oncology Explores the Potential of VR

(August 21, 2018) Just about everyone would rather be sitting on that dock than waiting in a doctor’s office. Now, thanks to virtual reality, it’s at least somewhat possible. Penn’s Radiation Oncology department has recently added this VR mindfulness experience to its waiting room in the Roberts Proton Therapy Center. Click here to read on.

Conflicting Guidance on Opioid Prescribing Can Jeopardize Pain Management for Patients with Cancer

(6/12/2018)  In an upcoming article in JAMA Oncology, lead-author Salimah H. Meghani, PhD, MBE, RN, FAAN, Associate Professor of Nursing and Term Chair of Palliative Care at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (Penn Nursing), and co-author, Neha Vapiwala, MD, Associate Professor of Radiation Oncology and Vice Chair for Education in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (PSOM), call for key agencies (CDC, NCCN, American Medical Association, American Society of Clinical Oncology) and other organizations to collaborate and resolve these inconsistencies. The article, Bridging the Critical Divide in Pain Management Guidelines From the CDC, NCCN, and ASCO for Cancer Survivors, is available online first and will be published in the October 2018 issue of the journal. 

Penn Study Maps Potential of Manipulating Gut Microbiome to Boost Efficacy of Cancer Immunotherapies

(4/2/2018) Reporting in the Journal of Clinical Investigation Insights, a team led by senior author Andrea Facciabene, PhD, a research assistant professor of Radiation Oncology and Obstetrics/Gynecology, found that the effectiveness of adoptive T cell therapy (ACT) in mice with cancer is significantly affected by differences in the natural makeup of gut bacteria and treatment with antibiotics.

Varian Partners with Penn Medicine for Proton Therapy Training and Education Program

(11/28/2017) Varian announced it is partnering with Penn Medicine to develop and launch a comprehensive proton therapy training and education program. Comprised of both online and in-person training sessions, participants will have the opportunity to learn key clinical concepts firsthand from proton therapy experts at Penn Medicine. 

Penn Medicine Radiation Oncology Delivers First Treatment in the World with Halcyon 

(9/21/2017) Penn Medicine Radiation Oncology successfully delivered the
first treatment in the world with the new Halcyon Linear Accelerator technology on 09/13/2017. The department spent the past 2 years developing this unique cancer treatment with Varian. It is an incredibly proud moment that was preceded with extensive efforts and coordination to get everything in order. This is an important step for the department and Penn Medicine as we continue to lead the world in next generation treatment for cancer patients. 

Protons with a Purpose

(8/4/2017)The Roberts Proton Therapy Center at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center houses a full research beamline for protons and a personal patient care facility. “We offer access to the most unique clinical environment of proton and photon therapy capabilities, all integrated under one roof,” Neha Vapiwala, MD of the Perelman School of Medicine said. (Videos in link)

(7/13/2017) Cancer Cells Force Normal Cells to Mimic Viruses to Help Tumors Spread, Resist Treatment
Associate Professor, Andy Minn, MD, PhD and lab member Barzin Nabet, PhD have identified how cancer cells corrupt normal cells. They force the cells into mimicking a virus, which leads to more aggressive cancer and resistance to treatment. The team now looks to potential therapeutic targets to respond to the interference.

2017 John Yuhas Memorial Lecture and Award Ceremonyphoto of people at the ceremony

(6/27/2017) An award lecture was given by the recipient, Dr. Peter M. Glazer, Robert E. Hunter Professor and Chair of Department of Therapeutic Radiology. and Professor of Genetics, Yale University. The title of his talk was "Oncometabolities, DNA repair, and cancer therapy".

(3/17/2017) From the Room Next Door to the Next Planet Over: New Proton Center Research Room Will Have an Impact Near and Far

Proton Research Room openingProton and SARRP Research Room Grand Opening

(3/15/2017) A ceremony was held to celebrate the grand opening of the newly renovated Albert Chadwick Research Room, and to thank all who were involved in the project. Tours were given to view the facility and the SARRP. The Albert Chadwick Research Room is located in the CN level of the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine.

Dr. Ann R. Kennedy Symposiumkennedy sympsium

(11/3/2016) The Symposium was held to recognize the many contributions that Dr. Kennedy has made in the study of space radiation medicine and radioprotection during her illustrious 28 year research career here at Penn. The symposium was opened by Dr. Metz, followed by a keynote presentation by NASA Astronaut Serena M. Aunon-Chancellor, MD, MPH, who spoke on the Medical Challenges of Working in Low Earth Orbit.  Presentations from former collaborators and lab members of Dr. Kennedy served to highlight the broad impact of their research over the span of Dr. Kennedy’s career. The evening culminated with a reception in Dr. Kennedy’s honor. Dr. Ann R. Kennedy Symposium, 2016-11-03

2016 AACR Judah Folkman Career Development Award

(10/18/2016) Congratulations to Assistant Professor, Yi Fan, MD, PhD, who was honored as the 2016 American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Judah Folkman Career Development Award for Angiogenesis Research

2016 John Yuhas Memorial Lecture and Award Ceremony

(3/2/2016) An award lecture was given by the recipient, Dr. Ruth J. Muschel, MRC/CRUK Professor of Molecular Pathology,University of of people at the ceremony

2015 John Yuhas Memorial Lecture and Award Ceremony

(6/18/2015) An award lecture was given by the recipient, Dr. Mark W. Dewhirst, Professor of Radiation Oncology, Vice Director for Basic Science of Duke Cancer Institute, Associate Dean for Faculty Mentoring at Duke University Medical Center.Yuhas 2015

2014 John Yuhas Memorial Lecture and Award Ceremony

(3/20/2014) An award lecture was given by the recipient, Dr. Jacqueline Williams, Professor of Environmental Medicine and Radiation Oncology, at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Yuhas 2014

2014 Morton M. Kligerman Lecture and Award Ceremony

(3/25/2014) An award lecture was given by the recipient, Dr. Margaret Foti, Cheif Executive Officer of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Botswana Initiative