Dr. Grace Blitzer Earns ASCO’s Conquer Cancer Young Investigator Award

Grace Blitzer, MD
Grace Blitzer, MD

Dr. Grace Blitzer, a University of Wisconsin radiation oncology resident, has earned a Conquer Cancer Young Investigator Award from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). This one-year $50,000 award will help fund a clinical trial to investigate a treatment for radiation-induced xerostomia (dry mouth) in head and neck cancer patients.

Xerostomia is a common toxicity among patients who undergo radiation therapy for head and neck cancer. It can occur when radiation damages salivary glands and can lead to dental problems, swallowing and speaking difficulties, and other complications. Currently, there are no curative treatments for radiation-induced xerostomia, only treatments for symptoms.

This phase I clinical trial will investigate the use of interferon gamma stimulated mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) to treat radiation-induced Xerostomia. This clinical trial builds on Dr. Blitzer’s previous research that demonstrated the feasibility of growing MSCs from head and neck cancer patients and investigated the treatment mechanisms of interferon gamma stimulated MSCs. This is the first phase I clinical trial in humans using this treatment. It will enable Dr. Blitzer and her colleagues to determine the safety of this treatment and dosage for a phase II trial.

In addition to helping Dr. Blitzer launch a phase I clinical trial, this award “provides key support for my career as a clinical trials investigator and translational researcher,” she says. “I am grateful to ASCO and Conquer Cancer for this award and helping me launch my career.”

Dr. Blitzer also thanks Drs. Randy Kimple, associate professor in the Department of Human Oncology, and Jacques Galipeau, the Don and Marilyn Anderson Professor of Oncology and associate dean in the Department of Medicine.

“Dr. Kimple has been a huge support throughout my career. He has been my mentor since I was an undergraduate and has provided me with guidance and inspiration for over a decade,” Dr. Blitzer says. “Working with both Dr. Kimple’s and Dr. Galipeau’s labs has been a wonderful experience. Every lab member I have interacted with has gone above and beyond to help me succeed.”