$15 million NCI grant awarded to investigate a type of radiation therapy for hard-to-treat cancers

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The Radiopharmaceutical Therapy and Dosimetry Lab at Johns Hopkins Medicine, headed by George Sgouros, Ph.D., has been awarded a $15 million grant, to be dispersed over the next five years, from the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health. They will use these funds to investigate a type of radiation therapy for hard-to-treat cancers.

The award will fund several research projects, all of which will investigate a promising cancer treatment known as alpha-particle emitter radiopharmaceutical therapy, or alpha-emitter RPT. This therapy has proved successful in treating widespread, treatment-resistant cancers through directly delivering radiation to cancer cells.

Administered into the bloodstream, alpha-emitter RPT treatment delivers highly potent radiation directly to cancer cells. Radioactive atoms that emit alpha-particles (helium nuclei) are attached to special molecules that target, or latch on to, dispersed cancer cells in the body. Alpha-particles delivered to cancer cells cause massive DNA damage that kills the cancer. Alpha-emitter RPT also limits the amount of damage to normal tissues surrounding the cancer, which can prevent some of the debilitating side effects patients with cancer may face with radiation and chemotherapy.

Sgouros, who has investigated this particular treatment his entire career, has previously demonstrated that this therapy is highly effective in targeting a variety of metastatic cancers that do not respond to traditional radiation and chemotherapy.

Within the last decade, several agents that use this approach of delivering radiation therapies that target treatment-resistant cancer have been approved by the FDA, and Sgouros explains that the need to improve delivery of these treatments and investigate additional specific radiation treatments is growing.

The study of these types of radiation treatments is a very active field that is also very niche. It is a unique area of study because a multidisciplinary team is needed to fully optimize such therapies, everything from physics, radiochemistry, biology and pharmacokinetics impacts this treatment approach."

George Sgouros, director of the radiological physics division and professor of radiology and radiological science at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Now, with the $15 million award, Sgouros and a diverse set of researchers in the lab will work to hone alpha-emitter RPT and optimize its application. This includes developing approaches to imaging and understand how the radiation is deposited in tissues so that treatment can be tailored to individual patients. Sgouros and his assembled team will specifically focus on the mathematical and physics-based components of alpha-emitter RPT to address these issues.

"We received this grant because we're the group that can solve these problems," says Sgouros. "This award is a testament to the collective expertise we have here at Hopkins, and what we've proposed to do with this grant can only be done with the group of investigators we have assembled here."

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