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ICTS pilot grant update: Making cancer therapy more effective with less side effects

According to the American Cancer Society, one American dies of melanoma every hour. University of Iowa researchers are working hard to lower this devastating number. By using advanced radiochemistry technology, they hope to develop better diagnostic and treatment options for individuals living with metastatic melanoma, neuroendocrine tumors, and other cancers as well.

“We are basically designing molecules that will seek out cancer cells and specifically deliver a precise radiation dose to those cells,” said Michael Schultz, PhD. The precision has the potential to provide improved treatment with lower side effects compared to other therapeutic strategies.

“The exciting thing is that we have advanced to the stage where we are moving this work into clinical trials and identifying patients who can really benefit from the therapy,” said Schultz, an assistant professor of radiology and radiation oncology.

Schultz’s work concentrates on identifying peptide hormone molecules that bind to a cancer cell’s surface.  Once the peptide is identified, his research team uses synthetic chemistry techniques to modify the peptide – making it more stable and able to bind more specifically to cancerous cells, but not most other healthy cells. This specificity enables more precise delivery of radiation dose to cancer cells, while sparing healthy cells, tissues, and organs.

“There are a lot of people working on it right now, but researchers and physicians at the University of Iowa are playing a leading role in introducing these targeted radiation therapy techniques for patient care in the United States,” Schultz said.

According to Schultz, gallium-68 diagnostic imaging (one of his lab's focus areas) has great potential for identifying patients who can benefit most from targeted radiation therapy and also for measuring response to therapies early.  Although the procedure is popular in Europe, Schultz and colleagues at the University of Iowa have recently become one of only two institutions (the other is Vanderbilt University) to introduce radionuclide gallium-68 for targeted diagnostic imaging in the US.

Schultz went to Europe in 2008 with a long-term strategy to learn how to use the gallium-68 pharmaceutical preparation technology, return to the UI, and apply it to his own research. Together with colleagues Sue O’Dorisio, MD, PhD, Thomas O’Dorisio, MD, Yusuf Menda, MD, the UI PET Imaging Center, and the Department of Radiology, the team is establishing itself as the leader in diagnostic imaging of neuroendocrine tumors with gallium-68 peptides and targeted radiation treatment of neuroendocrine tumor patients.
 
The research is being recognized nationally, and the investigative team was recently awarded a $2.2 million R01 grant by the National Institutes of Health to accelerate the widespread introduction of a gallium-68 labeled peptide called DOTATOC for molecular imaging of this disease.
 The team plans to build on these successes to introduce similar diagnostic and therapeutic strategies for metastatic melanoma and prostate cancer.

Building on these studies, Schultz's lab alone has been awarded $1.1 million in grant funds in 2012 and has another $3.5 million in pending awards. In collaboration with Leonard Watkins, PhD, David Dick, PhD, and Michael Graham, MD, PhD, of the UI PET Center, they will host a workshop at the UI in October for other researchers hoping to learn more about using the gallium-68 pharmaceutical production technologies and their techniques to better diagnose and treat neuroendocrine tumors and metatastic melanoma.

Schultz received $50,000 in pilot grant funding from the Institute for Clinical and Translational Science in 2011 to examine new approaches to specifically target cancer cells in the body.  


Publish Date: 
Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 13:34