Research

  • ASTRO's 2017 Research Agenda

    Curing cancer and maintaining high quality of life for patients with cancer are the foremost goals of those in radiation oncology. Recently, research in genomics, proteomics and immunology have provided a greater understanding of how cancer grows, spreads and how it can be stopped. Improvements in technology and therapy have led to improved outcomes and patient care with precision targeting of treatment and a reduction in toxicity and detrimental side effects. Increasingly, it is evident that combination therapy that includes a mix of modalities – radiation, surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy – is the most effective treatment option.

    Because there are still many unanswered questions, ASTRO has outlined five key areas of research of interest for the radiation oncology field.

  • Precision medicine is redefining treatment options and treatment regimens for patients. Increasingly, patients receive treatments based on the profile of their disease (genomics of the tumor, location, morphology). Understanding how changes in the genome could alter radiation treatment effects will have a large impact on cancer therapy. Learning how to best use genomic tools in radiation therapy will lead to better patient outcomes.

    Research topics of interest include:

    • How do genomic alterations affect radiation treatment?
    • What genomic mutations does radiation cause? 
    • Can we derive a mutational signature from radiation treatment?
    • What genomic mutations predict response or inform radiation dosage?
    • Does radiation change gene/protein expression in the cell?
    • What epigenetic changes may affect responses to radiation?

    For some tumors, treating with one modality is not enough. Combinations that include multiple modalities (radiation, surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy) provide the best option for success. There is still much to learn about what combinations are most effective for any given tumor. New data is emerging that radiation in combination with chemotherapy or immunotherapy provides a much safer and longer-lasting solution to eliminate cancer growth and metastasis.

    Research topics of interest include:

    • What is the most effective combination therapy for specific cancer types?
    • How should radiation treatment be combined with other therapies?
    • How does radiation modulate the immune system?
    • What is the abscopal effect and how can we harness it to improve outcomes?

    The environment in which the tumor lives can have a large impact on tumor growth and metastasis and may alter responses to therapy. Understanding the influence of the tumor microenvironment, how the immune system controls tumor growth (the abscopal effect) and the impact of metabolism on radiation therapy outcomes is necessary to improve treatment efficacy and patient outcomes. Likewise, the study of radiation effects on normal tissue and on tissue vascularization will provide better understanding of how to eliminate or avoid toxicities.

    Research topics of interest include:

    • How does the tissue surrounding a tumor influence its response to radiation?
    • How does radiation alter the tumor microenvironment?
    • How does radiation influence the local immune response?
    • How can we spare normal tissue from radiation during treatment?
    • What novel ways can we use to reduce toxicity?
    • How do we better predict radiation-induced toxicities?
    • Can we minimize long-term toxicities?

    Visualizing a tumor and accurately delivering radiation to the tumor site with better efficiency while avoiding damage to adjacent normal tissues is the goal of every radiation oncology treatment. Improving technology and treatment modalities that increase the efficacy while decreasing the toxicity to normal tissues is a primary area of research focus.

    Research topics of interest include:

    • What new technologies or methods can increase efficacy and reduce toxicity?
    • Can we develop novel on-board imaging methods?
    • Will functional imaging improve cancer treatment?
    • Can we develop new methods for improving segmentation?
    • How do we optimize treatment planning?
    • Can we develop novel treatment modalities?

    Mutations found in each tumor are making individualized treatment options more common. This is changing the traditional format of clinical trials and bringing into the question traditional sample sizes. Identifying new clinical trial designs and methods to utilize this new information while maximizing patient safety is a necessary focus. In addition, collecting, processing, storing and presenting clinical data on previously treated patients in a learning health system environment will be a powerful tool in our path toward precision medicine.

    Research topics of interest include:

    • Can we develop infrastructure for novel quantitative imaging integration in clinical trials?
    • How can radiation treatment be incorporated into new adaptive clinical trial designs?
    • How can we harness the power of patient registries?
    • What preclinical data is necessary for clinical trials in immunotherapy or combination therapies?
    • How can we best harness Big Data applications to predict or inform radiation treatment?
  • Research Resources

  • ASTRO WorkshopsASTRO hosts several workshops aimed at radiation oncology researchers throughout the year. These workshops focus on a wide range of research and career development topics.
    Funding OpportunitiesASTRO supports cancer research through early career development awards. Check here for more details. Applications are no longer being accepted for the 2017 Junior Faculty Award or the Resident Seed Grants.
    Professional DevelopmentAdvancing the careers of our members is central to ASTRO's mission, and one that we take seriously. Learn more about opportunities to mentor early to mid-career scientists, to be mentored by more senior members and how to participate in grant review study sections.