Radiation therapy is used in the treatment of more than 60% of all cancer patients in the United States and is increasing. Recent advances in the field have made radiation treatments even more effective while at the same time reducing side effects on healthy tissue. These advances in radiation therapy have been driven by better knowledge of how cancer cells and healthy cells respond to radiation so that tailored therapies can be devised. Improvements in the imaging of tumors, combined with increased precision of radiation treatment machines, have also improved therapies and produced better outcomes.
The Radiobiology and Radiotherapy Program at Yale Cancer Center is devoted to making advances in these areas. The program has mounted a broad-based research effort in radiation therapy, radiobiology (the study of the effects of radiation or radioactive materials on biological systems), radiological physics, and related fields of tumor biology. The program’s long-term goal is to improve the results of cancer treatment in general and radiation therapy in particular with the intent to have a balanced effort that covers a broad spectrum of activity from the molecular to the treatment level.
One of the key themes of the program includes studies of DNA repair pathways to better elucidate how cancer cells are killed by radiation. In fact, DNA repair as a biological process was first discovered in the Radiobiology Program at Yale and celebrated its 50-year anniversary in May 2013 during the Yale DNA Repair Symposium.
Another major thrust is the investigation of tumor hypoxia. Tumors as they grow have abnormal blood vessels and therefore develop regions of low oxygen. These types of tumors have traditionally been the most aggressive and difficult to treat. The program has a major focus on the development of hypoxia-targeted cancer therapies in both laboratory-based efforts and in clinical trials. Translational efforts include improvements in radiation dosimetry (calculation of radiation dose), tumor imaging, and highly focused radiation delivery.
The program comprises a total of 47 faculty affiliated with six departments and two schools and has attracted substantial peer-reviewed funding from the NIH and elsewhere, in excess of $8 million per year. The program also engages actively in training young physicians and researchers in radiobiology and radiotherapy.