HU Awarded $1.3M Grant To Improve Breast Cancer Imaging And Therapy

The Department of Defense has awarded Hampton University a $1.3 million grant to improve breast cancer imaging and therapy research, in collaboration with the Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) and the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (JLab).

“This project aims to advance the technology of radiotherapy procedures in breast conserving therapy, ultimately resulting in a decrease in the number of recurring breast cancer cases and an increase in survival expectancy,” said Dr. Cynthia Keppel, scientific and technical director, Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute (HUPTI).

The resulting technology, based in part on an HU pending patent, will allow more women to take advantage of the life-saving partial breast irradiation procedure, in conjunction with breast conserving therapy. It will also facilitate better cosmetic outcomes for all patients treated with this modality. The project will utilize some advanced imaging technologies from JLab as well as clinical facilities and medical expertise at EVMS.

Radiation treatment following a surgical lumpectomy procedure for breast cancer improves life expectancy by reducing local recurrence rates by 3 fold. Unlike conventional radiation therapy, which consists of multiple treatments over a span of six weeks, the accelerated partial breast irradiation (APBI) procedure only requires two treatments daily over five consecutive days, making post-surgical radiation therapy more feasible for patients, in particular the elderly and those in rural communities where traveling to a center for treatment is time-consuming or difficult.

However, studies show that large radiation exposure to the skin during APBI is associated with mild to acute adverse skin reactions, which may prevent as many as 4,000 patients a year from taking advantage of breast conserving therapy with ABPI. Patients undergoing adjuvant chemotherapy are 10 times as likely to experience acute skin reactions to radiation. The proposed program leverages a unique partnership to provide a timely and clinically-relevant radiation shielding solution to this critical problem.

Dr. Keppel will serve as PI and HUPTI medical physicist Dr. Vahagn Nazaryan as Co-PI of the project. Dr. Andrew Weisenberger, group leader, Detector & Imaging Group, JLAB, and Dr. Mark Sinesi, chair, Department of Radiation Oncology and Biophysics, EVMS, will serve as Institutional-PIs.

HU has long been a leader in cancer research. Those efforts have led to the development of HUPTI, a proton cancer treatment center located off Magruder Boulevard in Hampton. Upon opening in the fall of 2010, HUPTI will be the largest free-standing proton therapy facility in the world, at 98,000 square feet. HUPTI is expected to treat more than 2,000 patients per year with prostate, breast, lung, and pediatric cancers.

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