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Pioneering radiation therapy to zero in on tumors
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Francis Blankenberg, MD, has received stimulus money to advance a novel use of radiation therapy to attack solid tumors. The technique uses a radiolabeled form of a protein called VEGF, or vascular endothelial growth factor. Because the surface of tumor cells have receptors for VEGF, it is a promising target for anti-cancer therapy.

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Blankenberg and his colleagues plan to attach radiotherapeutic isotopes to a bioengineered form of VEGF and then use this radiolabeled material to attack the tumor cells, as well as the blood vessels that sustain the tumor. The goal is to use the protein to deliver a strong dose of precisely targeted radiation, disarming the tumor without causing harm to surrounding tissue. Blankenberg is testing the technique initially in breast and colon cancers but believes it could apply to the vast majority of tumors.

Blankenberg originally applied for a grant two years ago, and his proposal made it through three rounds of review. Its score would once have easily qualified it for NIH funding, but the agency's cutbacks in spending in 2007 caused it to be put on hold. Now, with $665,561 in stimulus funds for the next two years, he can move forward on this innovative project.

Already, the money has made a big difference for one scientist. The funds provided a job for Helen D'Arceuil, PhD, who had been on the faculty of Harvard Medical School but had been unemployed since moving to the San Francisco Bay Area. She and her children had relocated when her husband found work in the region at a local biotech firm. The stimulus funds enabled Blankenberg to hire her onto the project as well as hiring a postdoctoral scholar and retaining the services of another faculty member part-time.