$1.4M NIH Grant Supports RadOnc & Radiology Residents

Mentored-research training award boosts the next generation of Duke physician-scientists

DavidKirschScottFloydJosephLoThe National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health has awarded a $1.4 million R38 grant to support research by Duke Radiation Oncology and Radiology resident-investigators. The Duke Radiation Oncology and Radiology Stimulating Access to Research in Residency (Duke ROR StARR) will begin to support resident-investigators in July 2020.

Each resident-investigator will complete 12 to 24 months of in-depth mentored research in cancer biology, radiation biology, imaging or medical physics. Each will receive $20,000 for research expenses plus funding to travel to a scientific meeting.

The resident-investigators will be able to select from preceptors whose research is at the forefront in the imaging and treatment of cancer, including those affiliated with the Duke University School of Medicine Departments of Radiation Oncology, Radiology, Pathology, Medicine, Pharmacology and Cancer Biology and the Duke University Pratt School of Engineering Department of Biomedical Engineering.

David Kirsch, MD, PhD, vice chair for Basic & Translational Research in the Department of Radiation Oncology and co-Leader of the Radiation Oncology and Imaging research program at Duke Cancer Institute (DCI) is the principal investigator/program director for the R38 grant. Joseph Lo, PhD (vice chair for Research in the Department of Radiology and Study Program Director for Radiology, Radiation Oncology, and Medical Physics) and Scott Floyd, MD, PhD (radiation oncologist, Gary Hock and Lyn Proctor Associate Professor of Radiation Oncology, director of the Floyd Lab, and associate radiation director for the Duke Center for Brain and Spine Metastasis at DCI) are the collaborating investigators/associate program directors for the grant. Kirsch, Lo and Floyd are all DCI members.

“This grant will give residents in Radiation Oncology and Radiology the opportunity to position themselves for a future career translating discoveries from the lab to better treatments and improved outcomes for cancer patients,” said Kirsch.

David Kirsch and Yvonne Mowery
David Kirsch, MD, PhD, with Kirsch Lab member Yvonne Mowery, MD, PhD

“We are so privileged to be the recipients of one of four R38s at Duke,” said Lo. “This is a school-wide [Duke University School of Medicine] strategy to bolster the pipeline of physician-scientists right from the beginning of their careers as residents.”

Kirsch leads a team of investigators whose research spans basic science, translational research, and the clinical trials continuum. His clinical interests are the multi-modality care of patients with bone and soft tissue sarcomas and developing new sarcoma therapies. In his lab, the Kirsch Lab, he utilizes mouse models to study cancer and radiation biology in order to develop new cancer therapies in the pre-clinical setting.

“Within the field of radiation oncology, there is a tremendous opportunity for residents to apply knowledge from basic research in DNA damage response, tumor biology, and immunology to improve the outcomes of cancer patients,” said Kirsch, who in addition to his aforementioned titles is also a practicing radiation oncologist, the Barbara Levine University Professor of Radiation Oncology, and a professor of Pharmacology & Cancer Biology.

Lo directs the Carl E. Ravin Advanced Imaging Labs (RAI Labs), and, in addition to being a professor of Radiology, holds secondary appointments as a professor of Biomedical Engineering, professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering and as faculty with the Graduate Program in Medical Physics. He specializes in breast cancer imaging research, including tomosynthesis imaging, computer aided diagnosis, and breast modeling.

Joseph Lo
Joseph Lo, PhD, presents his research at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. (December 2017)

“Among physicians, both radiologists and radiation oncologists are defined by their mastery of advanced technologies, including hardware, such as multi-million-dollar imaging and radiotherapy devices, as well as software, such as 3D image or treatment plans, and, of course, artificial intelligence models,” Lo said, adding that the R38 program will provide resident-Investigators with immersive training in these technologies. “Just within the Department of Radiology, we offer research projects in new clinical imaging technologies, radiochemistry for “theranostic” combinations of therapy and imaging, preclinical imaging with animal models, and basic science in cancer biomarkers. I am particularly excited to get the resident-investigators involved from the beginning as we roll out several new initiatives in computational data science, including development of virtual clinical trials and deep learning to improve cancer diagnosis and therapy.” 

Resident-investigators on the R38 grant will also be supported by their residency program directors: Joseph Salama, MD (Radiation Oncology), Karen Johnson, MD (Diagnostic Radiology), and Paul Suhocki, MD (Interventional Radiology).

"The four R38 programs that Duke now houses, representing 8 of our 16 clinical departments, has already been referred to as 'unprecedented,'" said Sallie Permar, MD, PhD, associate dean for Physician-Scientist Development. "We look forward to the ongoing synergy of these programs for early stage physician scientists."

Follow Duke Radiation Oncology @DukeRadOnc , Duke Radiology at @DukeRadiology and the RAI Labs at @DukeRAILabs. Find Joseph Lo, PhD, on Twitter at @JosephLo16.