Kirsch Receives Outstanding Investigator Award

March 18, 2016
By: Samiha Khanna, Duke Health News

The National Cancer Institute has awarded a prestigious Outstanding Investigator Award to David G. Kirsch, MD, PhD, professor in the departments of Radiation Oncology and Pharmacology and Cancer Biology at Duke Health.

The $6.6 million award, covering seven years, will fund ongoing research in Kirsch’s lab to improve the efficacy and safety of radiation therapy for people with cancer. Kirsch joins approximately 60 recipients nationwide who have been selected for “providing significant contributions toward understanding cancer and developing applications that may lead to a breakthrough in biomedical, behavioral, or clinical cancer research,” according to the NCI.

The grant spanning seven years will allow more time to probe potential leads in improving radiation treatment, Kirsch said.

“Many grants last about five years,” he said. “This kind of opportunity allows investigators the flexibility to take more risks and conduct experiments that might take longer. If there’s a really important question you’re trying to answer, it could take seven years from initiating the first experiment to finally publishing your findings. Now we can spend the time looking at those questions, which is really exciting.”

In his lab, Kirsch and his team use mouse genetics to study how radiation can cure some cancers and how it also causes toxicity or negative side effects. Learning more about the cells that are responsible for toxicity and those that control tumors can help researchers develop new drug targets that could potentially reduce side effects of radiation and help it be more effective, Kirsch said.

Kirsch shares the honor with the students and post-doctoral fellows at the Duke University School of Medicine and Duke Cancer Institute that have worked in his lab since he arrived at Duke in 2007, he said.

In addition to Kirsch, the current research team includes Katherine Castle; Mark Chen; Michelle Cooley; Daniel Cooper, PhD; Rebecca Dodd, PhD; Andrea Daniel, PhD; Warren Floyd; Jianguo Huang, PhD; Weiqiao Huang; Kyeung Min Joo, MPH, PhD; Collin Kent; Chang-Lung Lee, PhD; Lixia Luo; Yan Ma; David Van Mater, MD, PhD; Yvonne Mowery, MD, PhD; Patrick Oh; Michael Reinsvold; Melodi Javid Whitley; Nerissa Williams; and Amy Wisdom.