CPRIT funds research on advanced radiotherapy for lung cancer

By Debbie Bolles / October 2011 

Some of the most advanced radiation therapy technologies available are about to be put to the test by UT Southwestern researchers. Their aim? To find the best role for less-invasive treatment options for lung cancer patients.

A $3.54 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) funds the work of Hak Choy, M.D., Chairman of Radiation Oncology and national principal investigator for the collaborative five-year research initiative.

CPRIT grant
Researchers involved in a CPRIT grant project that will test the latest in advanced radiation therapy technologies include, from left, Drs. Robert Timmerman, Timothy Solberg, Chairman of Radiation Oncology Dr. Hak Choy and Dr. Jeffrey Meyer.

Central to the research is development of new image-guided therapies and a clinical trial involving precise radiotherapy on non-small cell lung cancer patients which uses advanced imaging, motion control and radiation dosing principles to deliver treatments at higher doses and with exact precision than conventional methods. This method – hypofractionated radiation treatment – includes monitoring movement of lung cancer tumors through imaging techniques as a patient breathes and then adjusting radiation beams accordingly.

“Through these projects we will establish Texas and its institutions as the international nucleus for advanced radiotherapy technology investigation and clinical care,” Dr. Choy said.

The grant includes 23 investigators from UT Southwestern, UT M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and Texas A&M University.

Robert Timmerman, M.D., Professor of Radiation Oncology and Neurological Surgery, is leading the Phase 3 clinical trial called Realizing Technological Advances – the State of Texas Advanced Radiation Therapy (START) Trial. The study will measure lung cancer cure rates comparing hypofractionated radiotherapy and conventional, longer-term radiotherapy and also will train physicians in the advanced therapy.

 “Because we have more accurate imaging of the tumor, we can deliver a high-radiation dose over a shorter period of time,” Dr. Choy said. Using this regimen, the treatment period can be cut in half, to three weeks.

The trial starting this fall aims to enroll 238 patients. Investigators expect 10 to 15 cancer treatment centers to participate. Tying in with the trial is a project to develop strategies optimizing delivery of radiotherapy related to tumor movement.

Lung cancer is the second most common type of cancer and the top cause of cancer death in the United States. Patients with lung cancer may be treated with surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these therapies. Radiation therapy continues to be the primary treatment for 60 percent of lung cancer patients. The goal of radiation therapy for lung cancer is to effectively treat the visible tumor and involved lymph nodes while avoiding healthy tissues.

Dr. Choy holds the Nancy B. and Jake L. Hamon Distinguished Chair in Therapeutic Oncology Research.

Dr. Timmerman holds the Effie Marie Cain Distinguished Chair in Cancer Therapy Research.