Improving Cancer Treatment by Targeting the Toxic Side Effects of Radiation Therapy [online video]


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7th Annual VCU 3MT® Competition, held on October 15, 2021.


The research involves trying to understand why radiation causes pulmonary fibrosis.


Josly Pierre-Louis: Hi, I'm Josly Pierre-Louis. Do you know someone who has been diagnosed with cancer? If you say yes, you know cancer is a devastating disease. It's common too, affecting millions of people worldwide. Lung and breast cancer are the most prevalent. Many of these patients will receive radiation therapy. Radiation is effective at killing cancer, but unfortunately it has toxic side effects. This is problematic because these side effects keep patients from receiving higher doses of radiation that could be effective in killing cancer. Once severe side effect is radiation pulmonary fibrosis. This is a chronic disease of the lung, in which the lung builds up of scar tissue. And this makes breathing difficult. Fibrosis is irreversible and in some cases can cause death. And there's no cure. Have you ever been short of breath? Maybe after some physical exercise? Fibrotic patients feel this discomfort constantly, and it only gets worse. This is showing an x-ray of lung cancer, where black equals air and the white is the tumor. Here we see a patient with radiation-induced fibrosis where we don't have that single tumor, but we have a pattern of white areas showing scar tissue and fibrosis. So what good is it to be cured of cancer if you can't breathe, right? My goal is to understand why radiation causes fibrosis. Then I can understand why, or how, to find a therapy. We know that scar tissue comes from scar-forming cells called fibroblasts. Fibroblasts create more, or produce more, lactic acid in fibrotic patients compared to healthy patients. And this is unexpected, but also important, because lactic acid can change the lung micro-environment and cause these scar forming cells to activate, causing more scarring. But what does this have to do with radiation? Radiation, when you have cells, these fibroblasts, in a dish, and you irradiate them, they produce more lactic acid. So it's activating the scar-forming function of these fibroblasts, leading to fibrosis. My project is to see how this happens. How does radiation lead to lactic acid? From there I irradiate cells and look at how they behave. From there, I can develop new treatments to see if this can stop that scar-forming function. It is with this hope that I will have more cancer patients who can have the opportunity for effective radiation doses without the toxic side effects. Because if you can't breathe, nothing else matters. Thank you.


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