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10-12-2018 13:18

Announcing 2018 Ring Grant recipients

Fall 2018

SIR Foundation logoThe Dr. Ernest J. Ring Academic Development Grant, supported by BTG, is SIR Foundation’s largest funding mechanism. Since its inception in 2008, SIR Foundation has seen a steady increase in not only the number of applications but also their quality. Each application undergoes rigorous review by experts in the field. For the 2017–2018 grant cycle, seven applications were submitted, and three quality applications were awarded—the most given in a single year in SIR Foundation history. With their generous contribution, BTG was able to help support these Ring Grant research projects.

SIR Foundation congratulates the 2018 Ring Grant recipients: Rahul Sheth, MD, Avnesh Thakor, MD, PhD, and Etay Ziv, MD, PhD.

Rahul Sheth, MD, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston

Rahul Sheth, MDHepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the third most common cause of cancer-related death worldwide, and unfortunately systemic treatment options are limited. Recently, immunotherapies have made tremendous progress for many cancers including HCC. However, one major hurdle limiting the efficacy of these drugs is the tumor’s immunosuppressive microenvironment. In our proposal, we will evaluate a novel minimally invasive hyperthermia technique designed to overcome these barriers and highlight tumors for immune-mediated destruction. We believe that, by combining this technology with systemic immunotherapies, treating one lesion may stimulate a systemic immune response that could attack tumors wherever they exist in the body.

I cannot sufficiently express the extent of my gratitude to SIR Foundation for the opportunities afforded to me by the Pilot and Ring Grants. Since medical school, I have sought to pursue a career in academic medicine focused on developing and applying novel technologies to minimally invasive interventions. Through these grants, I was able to establish a research program immediately as a junior faculty member at a new institution straight out of fellowship. I intend to continue to use the results acquired in these studies to serve as preliminary data for subsequent grant funding, with the goal of further investigating and applying minimally invasive therapies to enhance anti-tumor immunity. I sincerely thank SIR Foundation for providing an invaluable foundation from which I plan to launch my career as a clinician-scientist.

Avnesh Thakor, MD, PhD, Stanford University, California

Avnesh Thakor, MD, PhDOver the past few decades, interventional radiologists have made significant contributions to the treatment of patients with cancer, especially with our ability to selectively deliver drugs directly to tumors via their arterial blood supply. This approach ensures that drugs reach their therapeutic potential given that they can be directly delivered to targets organs in high concentrations while concurrently minimizing side effects from systemic toxicity as well as drug loss from first pass metabolism. Over the next decade, interventional radiology will be well positioned to make similar advances for the delivery of different cellular therapies in the fields of oncology and regenerative medicine. In the latter case, this will lead to a new field called interventional regenerative medicine (IRM). In order for this to be possible, we need to first understand how these different cellular therapies work at a molecular level, in addition to exploring novel technologies that can assist in optimizing the delivery and effects of these cells. The present project, supported by the Ring Grant, will start to investigate these different areas in the setting of diabetes. We aim to explore the effects of intra-arterial injection of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) directly into the diabetic pancreas given the promise of this therapy for regenerating the pancreatic gland and restoring insulin secretion to re-establish glucose homeostasis. This work will establish the foundation for my lab to explore similar approaches for the regeneration of other organs such as the liver, kidney, lungs and brain in the appropriate clinical settings.

Etay Ziv, MD, PhD, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York

Etay Ziv, MD, PhDTransarterial embolization (TAE) and chemoembolization (TACE) are first-line treatment for the management of intermediate-stage hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). While their efficacy has been established in randomized controlled trials, on an individual level, TAE/TACE responses are difficult to predict and recurrences are common. A critical barrier to improving patient outcomes is the lack of understanding of the molecular mechanisms giving rise to sensitivity and resistance to embolization in an individual’s specific tumor. In our proposal, we will correlate molecular subclasses of HCC with response to TAE to identify TAE-resistant HCC subtypes. Oncogenic drivers giving rise to these subtypes will then be tested in the lab to identify potential vulnerabilities of these resistant subtypes.

I am so grateful to SIR Foundation for the opportunities provided to me by the Pilot and Ring Grants. The results we obtained from the Pilot Grant led to our Journal of Vascular and Interventional Radiology (JVIR) paper that won the 2017 JVIR Editor’s Award. This preliminary study also lay the groundwork for our Ring Grant proposal. We are very excited about this opportunity because it allows us to take what we learn in the clinic back to the lab, to understand fundamental issues in cancer biology. The results from this project will serve as preliminary data for subsequent grant funding, with the ultimate goal of developing a precision medicine approach to interventional oncology. I thank SIR Foundation for providing this critical mechanism for early career physician-scientists in interventional radiology.

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