By Stephanie Thermozier, BS
In the summer of 2016 I was fortunate enough to be awarded the ASTRO Minority Summer Fellowship Grant. At the time I had completed my first year of medical school and knew very little about the field of radiation oncology. Although the curriculum exposed students to medical and surgical oncology, the mention of radiation as a modality to treat disease was sparse.
I spent my summer in the lab of Joel Greenberger, MD, at the University of Pittsburgh. My project aimed to characterize the role of the serine protease Serpinb3a in lysosomal mediated cell death in the radiation damage response. The goal was to shed light on this mechanism of cell death and translate the results into a therapeutic modality that can minimize radiation damage to normal tissue. The summer was challenging yet rewarding. I used current scientific and clinical knowledge to generate hypotheses and experimental procedures. I faced many setbacks during the summer, but I learned how to troubleshoot failed experiments and to interpret and learn from unexpected results. This helped me refine my analytical thinking and decision-making skills and taught me how to communicate complex scientific concepts in a clear yet concise manner.
The basic science track of the fellowship also exposed me to the clinical side of radiation oncology by allowing me to shadow in clinic one day each week. I met with patients, physicians and physicists during the staging and treatment planning process. This deepened my understanding of the field while reinforcing concepts in anatomy, pathology, biochemistry and genetics. Through the fellowship I was given an additional mentor, Anne McCall, MD, in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Chicago. This proved to be a tremendous resource. In addition to project check-ins, I was able to speak with her and learn from her experiences in research and in practice.
As a direct result of the fellowship, I decided to take a year off from medical school to continue my research. Additionally, through the fellowship, I attended the ASTRO Annual Meeting in San Antonio this past October. At the meeting I met researchers and clinicians from around the world while learning about the new and exciting directions of the field. I also met with former and current awardees, and the members of ASTRO’s Committee on Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (CHEDI). Through these encounters I saw the current diversity, as well the organization’s commitment to increasing diversity within the field.
Upon reflecting on my involvement with the ASTRO Minority Summer Fellowship Grant, I can definitely say that it has strengthened me as a future physician scientist. The experiences and exposures I had through the fellowship are among the highlights of my medical school career.
The deadline to apply for the 2019 Minority Summer Fellowship is Friday, February 15. View details and access the application here
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By James Yu, MD, Yale University Cancer Center
Oligometastatic disease is of increasing academic and community interest, and it has been identified by ASTRO membership as a top research priority. There are emerging imaging and diagnostic technologies that are more readily defining and detecting oligometastatic disease – making contemporary discussion of oligometastatic disease especially relevant. Radiosurgery and radiation in general are thought to be ideal non-invasive therapy for the treatment of oligometastatic disease. Improved imaging techniques are emerging to better characterize metastatic cancer and treatment response. Lastly, innovations in targeted therapy and immune therapy are arguably increasing the numbers of patients with oligometastatic disease, and they have the potential to reverse widely disseminating disease into a clinically curable, but still metastatic state. For these reasons and more, world renowned speakers will discuss the clinical and basic science research of the definition, diagnosis and treatment of oligometastatic disease during the 2019 ASTRO Research Workshop, co-sponsored with the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).
What is Oligometastatic Disease?
Oligometastatic disease is the theorized intermediate state between localized and disseminated cancer. There is increasing interest in oligometastatic disease in both the academic and the wider cancer community, partly because of the long-term survival that can be achieved through multimodality treatment strategies for patients with oligometastatic cancer.
How can Radiation Oncology be used to improve outcomes for patients with Oligometastatic Disease?
Data are emerging that local ablative therapies (such as surgery, radiofrequency ablation and radiation therapy) can play an important role in the treatment of oligometastatic cancer, particularly in delaying disease progression and increasing survival times. Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) has rapidly emerged as an effective and less toxic tool for the treatment of lung, liver, adrenal, brain and bone metastases. The ability of modern radiotherapy techniques to deliver potentially ablative doses to numerous organ sites throughout the body has allowed for the aggressive treatment of unresectable metastases.
The clinical implications of improved treatment of oligometastatic disease are enormous and immediate. Radiation oncology should be at the forefront of the treatment of oligometastatic disease, and radiation oncology researchers should lead the charge in defining, detecting and optimally combining treatment. Focused effort is required so that we can translate current efforts of large numbers of studies with few patients to larger studies of larger impact.
The workshop will be held on June 13 and 14, 2019, at the FHI 360 Conference Center in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC. For more information and to register, visit the meeting website