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Faculty Retreat 2017

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DHO Retreat Showcases Research, Encourages Collaboration

Members of the Department of Human Oncology at the retreat's poster session

The Department of Human Oncology (DHO) at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health is primed for growth and improvement of its already impressive research portfolio, said Dr. Paul Harari, DHO chairman, at the recent DHO Research Retreat.

“We’ve brought many talented faculty into the DHO, and many are just at the beginning of their careers, poised to perform wonderful research and compete for funding,” Harari said. “I predict and strongly encourage that we strive to double our research funding over the next five years. I believe we can grow from $4 million to $8 million in total annual research funding by 2022.”

The retreat provided an opportunity for faculty from the department’s three divisions—cancer biology, medical physics and clinical—to share their research, celebrate successes and explore new research opportunities in a setting outside the day-to-day activities of this busy department.

The program featured several presentations by researchers in each of the department’s three divisions as well as three rounds of poster sessions that were each followed by a game of Family Feud in which the divisions tested their knowledge of their colleagues’ work.

Among the highlights:

  • Dr. Zach Morris, DHO assistant professor, discussed his research on in situ vaccination. This treatment approach combines radiation and immunotherapy to treat metastatic disease by targeting a single tumor site to generate a robust local reaction that drives a systemic immune response.
  • Dr. Randy Tibbetts, DHO professor, discussed alternative splicing, DNA repair and chemoirradiation response. This line of research may provide opportunities to predict how individual cancer patients will respond to specific cancer treatments and thereby select patients with greater likelihood of favorable response.
  • Dr. Jessica Miller, DHO assistant professor, introduced the department’s Siemens SOMATOM Definition Edge CT Scanner, which uses two filter packs that separate a single X-ray source into low- and high-energy portions delivered in a single scan. This system provides the benefit of multi-spectra imaging without exposing patients to any more radiation than they would receive from a conventional CT scan. The two images can then be used to reconstruct a variety of images that enhance the ability to see various anatomical structures.
  • Dr. Zac Labby, DHO assistant professor, presented an idea for possible research—studying the use of diffusion MR imaging to visualize radiation-induced damage to the trigeminal nerve in the treatment of trigeminal neuralgia.
  • Dr. Michael Bassetti, DHO assistant professor, talked about the capabilities and research opportunities of the department’s ViewRay System, an MRI-guided radiation therapy system that provides high-quality imaging during treatment. “One of the most interesting aspects of this system is that it provides the opportunity to change the intended dose based on daily changes to a patient’s anatomy,” Bassetti said. “This is really important to be able to confidently treat tumors with high doses near critical structures. We don’t know yet if increasing the dose in certain situations will matter. We’ll learn in the coming years whether this actually makes a meaningful difference.”
  • Dr. Andrew Baschnagel, DHO assistant professor, provided an overview of the use of biomarkers to predict cancer treatment response. One particular area of interest highlighted was identifying biomarkers that might predict which patients with stage III non-small cell lung cancer are most likely to develop brain metastases in order to detect lesions earlier and thereby improve care for these patients.

Throughout the retreat, presenters highlighted current and future research questions and invited colleagues to collaborate. Harari emphasized this theme as well: “I encourage everyone in the department to think about your research activities and how they might dovetail with those of your colleagues. I think we’re only at the beginning of what DHO can do to advance cancer research for the future.”