College’s oncology program benefits from Hyundai grant
The UF College of Veterinary Medicine is one of the beneficiaries of a $250,000 collaborative grant from Hyundai Hope on Wheels that will help support childhood cancer research.
The college’s portion of the grant is approximately $55,000 and will help support a graduate student involved in the research, said Dr. Rowan Milner, Chairman of the College’s Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences. Milner is one of several investigators on a team led by Dr. Wesley Bolch, a professor in UF’s J. Crayton Family Department of Biomedical Engineering. Bolch holds a joint appointment in the nuclear engineering program at the department of materials science and engineering, and also is a member of the UF Shands Cancer Center.
Bolch has worked on polymer-based delivery of therapy radionuclides for bone cancer, collaborating closely with Milner on pre-clinical testing in dogs. In fact, Milner’s doctoral research centered on the development of the molecule that is being used in the advanced technique being explored for the delivery of radionuclides directly to bone tumors in children.
“Delivery of a radionuclide that emits short-ranged radiation to the tumor is much preferred to the use of external beams of radiation to target tumor cells, as you can avoid affecting normal tissues from the beam itself and scatter radiation produced within the beam,” Bolch said. “Radionuclide delivery by molecular means, however, must ensure that the drug localizes in the bone tumor and not in healthy normal growing bone, which makes this a challenge for children.”
Milner’s original concept was to couple the radionuclide to a polymer biomolecule that can be adjusted in its size, Bolch said.
“For larger polymer sizes, the radionuclide-polymer combination would be too large to exit normal blood vessels within the pediatric skeleton,” Bolch said. “However, the blood vessels that supply oxygen to bone tumors are abnormal and leaky, thus allowing the radionuclide-polymer combination to enter the bone tumor preferentially to all non-targeted healthy tissues.”
Milner pioneered the technique while he was at the University of Pretoria with data collected on dogs with osteosarcoma. He, Bolch and others including Dr. Kenneth Wagener from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Dr. Chris Batich from the College of Engineering, Dr. Kip Berry from the College of Veterinary Medicine and Dr. William Slayton from the College of Medicine initially collaborated in the research with funding from an opportunity seed grant at UF. Dr. Joanne Lagmay and Dr. Robert Zlotecki from the College of Medicine later joined the team. The current graduate student they are working with is Michael Schultz from CLAS.
“The dog is an excellent model for human bone cancers, and a successful therapy will not only benefit children with this disease, but has the potential to dramatically improve outcomes for man’s best friend as well,” Milner said.
Accepting the award on behalf of the team of researchers, Bolch said the group was honored and excited about the potential for saving lives of children afflicted with this form of cancer.
Osteosarcoma is the most common bone cancer in children, but despite aggressive chemotherapy and surgery, there has been little change in patient prognosis over the past 30 years, said Lagmay, a clinical assistant professor in pediatric hematology/oncology.
“With the generous support of Hyundai Hope on Wheels, we have the opportunity to be at the forefront of novel treatment discoveries to cure osteosarcoma,” Lagmay said. “Our patients, their families and everyone fighting to cure this cancer are very grateful for this support.”
UF has a unique collaboration among pediatric oncology, radiation oncology, veterinary sciences, radiological and biomedical engineering, chemistry and materials engineering, which facilitates productive and cutting edge research.
Bolch was one of 41 recipients of Hope on Wheels’ 2012 Hyundai Hope Grants. In all, the company awarded $10.25 million in grants in September, which was National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.