A grant from the National Institutes of Health will support a biomedical engineering professor’s pursuit of technologies that can identify treatment-resistant tumors early in the treatment process.
Narasimhan Rajaram, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, has received a five-year, $2.03 million R01 grant from the National Cancer Institute to develop optical imaging technologies that can determine response to radiation and chemotherapy therapy during treatment of head and neck cancer.
The goal is to help patients and physicians by monitoring treatment response during therapy and allowing changes to the treatment plan to more effectively treat patients.
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The current standard of care is to treat these tumors with a seven-week regimen of radiation and chemotherapy. Follow-up clinical imaging using MRI and X-ray CT is used eight weeks after treatment to determine whether a tumor has responded.
The problem, Rajaram said, is the treatment plan lacks a way to identify how well the treatment is working during the process.
“Unfortunately, there are currently no methods that can identify treatment response in the clinic during therapy, which causes patients – both responsive and resistant – to lose critical time when alternative approaches could be considered,” he said.
Rajaram’s team has partnered with researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) to conduct the research. Technology development and pre-clinical studies will be conducted at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and at Johns Hopkins, and clinical trials in patients will be conducted at UAMS. Rajaram’s initial work in this area, to demonstrate the feasibility of the approach, was supported by startup funds from the University of Arkansas and the Arkansas Biosciences Institute.
The team includes Professor Robert Griffin and Assistant Professor Ruud Dings from UAMS Radiation Biology, Dr. Mauricio Moreno, director of head and neck otolaryngology at UAMS, and Ishan Barman, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
The research will lead to the development of an endoscope-compatible fiberoptic probe that combines diffuse reflectance and Raman spectroscopy. Diffuse reflectance spectroscopy uses optical fibers to deliver low-power, non-ionizing visible light on tissue and collect the diffusely reflected light. The Rajaram lab has developed models of light-tissue interaction to extract meaningful quantitative information from this reflected light, such as tissue oxygenation. Raman spectroscopy is an optical fiber-based technique that uses a near-infrared laser to provide a highly specific fingerprint of molecules in tissue. Since every molecule has unique Raman features, mathematical models can be used to separately identify and quantify the contributions of individual molecules.