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CRI clinical fellow earns ASCO’s Young Investigator Award to improve radiotherapy delivery

Faith Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., a clinical fellow in radiation oncology in the DeBerardinis lab, has been awarded the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Young Investigator Award (YIA). The YIA is awarded to promising investigators to encourage and promote quality research in clinical oncology and to help them transition from a fellowship program to a faculty appointment.

Dr. Zhang will use this one-year, $50,000 grant to improve radiation response rates for the millions of cancer patients who receive radiotherapy each year.

“I am honored and thrilled to be a recipient of the 2021 ASCO’s Young Investigator Award. As a postdoc in the DeBerardinis lab and soon-to-be thoracic radiation oncologist, I have been researching the role of tumor micro-environmental metabolism in radiation response in lung cancer. This generous support will enable further mechanistic investigation to improve the effectiveness of radiotherapy using clinically available metabolic agents. I am grateful for the investment from Conquer Cancer Foundation, CRI, and the Department of Radiation Oncology as I embark on a fulfilling career as a radiation oncologist-scientist,” says Dr. Zhang.

Despite rapid technological advances enabling highly precise radiation delivery in recent decades, adequate tumor control is still limited by toxicities to normal tissue. Currently, there are no FDA-approved drugs despite the persistently unmet clinical need. Radiation therapy works by damaging DNA in cancer cells, which eventually leads to cell death. In recent years, research has shown the DNA repair process is regulated by cell metabolism. However, it is unknown whether metabolism can be targeted to sensitize tumors to radiation while sparing normal tissue.

Using genetic screening tools, Faith will identify and study the metabolic genes and pathways important for radiation response in mice with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Her work has already identified two promising targets to sensitize NSCLC to radiation, which she plans to explore in depth thanks to the support of ASCO YIA.

“At the end of my award period, I hope to initiate a clinical trial to translate our findings into therapeutic interventions to help cancer patients everywhere,” says Dr. Zhang.

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