Dr. Dirbas et al Receive 2021 Under One Umbrella-Women’s Cancer Innovation Award

January 28, 2021

Drs. Fred Dirbas, Kathleen Horst, Edward Graves, and Billy Loo are the recipients of a 2021 Under One Umbrella-Women’s Cancer Innovation Award from the Stanford Women’s Cancer Center, Stanford Cancer Institute. The $50,000 will help fund their research project: "Preclinical model for evaluating FLASH radiotherapy for breast cancer."

FLASH is a type of ultra-fast delivery of radiotherapy in excess of 40 Gy/s; normal dose rates are about 0.03 Gy/s. Although the effects of FLASH on bacteria has been studied since the 1970s, it wasn't until two years ago that a team of scientists in France began to revisit FLASH. These researchers found that, for reasons that are currently inexplicable, that FLASH radiotherapy had the same effect on tumors as conventional radiotherapy but with much less toxicity on normal tissue. Conventional radiotherapy can cause painful side effects anywhere from a bad sunburn to a thickening of the breast tissue, which can make reconstruction more difficult.

"Dr. Loo published a paper on the effects of FLASH radiotherapy on lung carcinoma in 2020 and his results harkened back to what we used to see with intraoperative radiotherapy," said Dirbas. "I hadn't seen a lot that had been done with breast cancer, so I put together a team that would look at this in a mouse model."

Dirbas says his study has two parts: the first is to see if FLASH radiotherapy has the same effect on breast carcinomas. If the normal tissue seems to be preserved to a greater extent, the second question Dr. Dirbas wishes to answer is how does the therapy work in the short term.

"We need to determine if there are reactive oxygen species and which pathways are activated," said Dirbas. "If you don't damage the cancer stem cells to the same extent, you're no better off." 

Under One Umbrella is an annual luncheon sponsored by Medical Center Development to support the Women's Cancer Center. Proceeds support 10 research grants. Dirbas said he and his team are hoping to obtain additional funding so they can complete their work. 

"If we can learn how FLASH radiotherapy works, it will be a discovery known no where else in the world," said Dirbas.