Molecular radiobiology and targeted imaging

The division of molecular radiobiology and targeted imaging of VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center's Department of Radiation Oncology focuses on conducting research that defines mechanisms underlying cellular response to radiation and develops functional targeted imaging to enhance therapy. Research areas include basic radiobiology and signal transduction (i.e., how information is transmimtted within and between cells), which influence transcription, cell cycle regulation and DNA repair and ultimately determine whether the cell will live or die in response to radiation. Research also focuses on developing imaging techniques (CT, MRI and PET) to enhance targeted delivery of radiation in both clinic and laboratory settings.

Clinical applications of laboratory findings are of increasing importance to the Department, and thus a blood and tissue bank has been established to collect blood and tissue from all consenting patients in order to conduct genetic and proteomic analyses of patient responses to radiation. The division's studies on normal and tumor tissues have the ultimate goal of enhancing the therapeutic ratio of radiotherapy and mitigating normal tissue damage. Specific areas of interest include:

  • Brain, head and neck, lung, breast and colorectal cancers
  • Growth factor receptor signaling responses to radiation
  • Inflammation in cancer initiation/progression
  • Inflammation and response of tumors and normal tissues to radiation
  • Reactive oxygen and reactive nitrogen signaling mechanisms
  • Late normal tissue damage

This work is funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health, by private research foundations and through industry support.

Division faculty offer an annual one-semester graduate course in radiobiology and mentorship of undergraduate and pre-doctoral students, post-doctoral trainees and medical and physics residents in modern radiobiology research. Additionally, several faculty are directly involved in the M.S. and Ph.D. graduate programs in medical physics in the Department of Radiation Oncology.

In keeping with research goals, an immunohistopathology laboratory has been established, which includes a high throughput image analysis system for analysis of animal and human tissue samples and a proteomics laboratory with a LC/MS system for protein sequencing and RT-PCR for RNA analyses. NIH funding has led to the purchase of a small animal irradiator permitting image-guided conformal radiotherapy of small animals. Division researchers also interact extensively with VCU's Center for Molecular Imaging with their array of small animal imaging equipment, including PET/CT, MRI and tomographic photoacoustic imaging. The combination of state-of-the-art technology with fresh, innovative ideas represents the primary goal of the division and its two missions of research and teaching.