Research Laboratories

Cancer Biology Research
Cancer Biology research lab

Advances in research are a foundation for outstanding patient care. In the Department of Radiation Oncology, our research is built around the concept that fundamental discoveries in Radiation and Cancer Biology, Radiation Physics and Molecular Imaging can be brought to the clinic to help our patients. Based on these discoveries, we have developed new treatments for patients with a wide variety of cancers including those of the brain, head and neck, breast, lung, liver, pancreas, and prostate which all show promise to improve the outcome of treatment.

A particular strength of our department is the ability to work in teams to move fundamental discoveries into clinical trials. Our research is heavily supported by the National Institutes of Health, by foundations, by industry, and by gifts from patients and friends. In addition to research conducted in our department, we work closely with the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center which facilitates research and patient care that cuts across multiple medical specialties.

Laboratory Divisions

Cancer Biology Laboratories & Cores

The Radiation and Cancer Biology Division in the Department of Radiation Oncology of the University of Michigan was established in 1995. Overall goals of this division are to understand the mechanism of cellular response to radiation and to identify and target the molecules and signaling pathways that are responsible to radioresistance in human cancer. The ultimate goal is to improve current radiation therapy alone and in combination with chemotherapy for the treatment of cancer patients.

The projects undertaken by Faculty range from early target identification, to mechanistic study of signaling molecules, and to application of laboratory knowledge in clinic radiotherapy. Many state-of-art technologies are being used, including nanotechnology, transgenic and knockout mice, high throughput screening of siRNA libraries, and functional imaging.

Clinical Laboratories

The Clinical Division of the Department of Radiation Oncology of the University of Michigan was established in 1984. Our primary focus is to deliver outstanding clinical care while performing cutting-edge clinical research that translates into improved patient outcomes.

Our faculty include national and international leaders in oncology. Our work is recognized by many invited lectures, presentations at national meetings, and by substantial support from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and other funding agencies. Members of our Division lead a wide variety of radiation oncology-related treatment and imaging research studies. Many of these studies are open only to patients treated at the University of Michigan. The focus of these studies includes:

  • using new technologies to safely deliver higher, more curative, doses of radiation;
  • developing new methods of imaging tumors that show us not just where the tumor is, but which parts may be more aggressive and need stronger treatment and;
  • using new drugs that make tumors sensitive to radiation.

We also participate in studies coordinated by several national cooperative groups including the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group (RTOG), the Southwest Oncology Group (SWOG) and the Children’s Oncology Group (COG).

All of our faculty are part of the NCI-designated University of Michigan’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. The term “Comprehensive” has been awarded to only 40 Cancer Centers in the country and one other in the state. A great strength of our program is the close integration of both patient care and research with other Cancer Center members.

At the University of Michigan Hospital we have state-of-the-art technology. We have developed our own computer software for intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), have been treating patients with stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) for over 15 years and have an established stereotactic body radiation program (SBRT) for treatment of lung, liver and spine lesions. Our ability to perform image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT) is made possible by on-board kilovoltage and cone beam CT imaging and the Calypso electromagnetic tracking system. We also have the capability to treat patients with both low dose rate and high dose rate brachytherapy. Although having state-of-the-art technology is important, it is more important to have physicians and physicists who know how to use it. Our safety record for the adminstration of radiation is unsurpassed and our faculty include nationally recognized experts in the safe delivery of radiation therapy. Our Division is also responsible for the education and training of radiation oncology residents, fellows and numerous University of Michigan medical students. Graduates of our program have become faculty at other top programs in the country, such as Harvard, Yale, and MD Anderson.

Molecular Imaging Laboratories

In the last two decades, major advances have been made in understanding of cancer, its origin and its treatment. These include the elucidation of signaling events that are often dysregulated in specific cancer types, and the development and clinical use of agents that inhibit these signaling events. Despite these advances, we are far from understanding cancer in sufficient detail and scope to fully eradicate it. Imaging through the integration of the disciplines of physics, biology, chemistry, engineering, computing and medicine enhances our understanding of human disease. Non-invasive imaging technologies have significantly impacted the diagnosis and treatment of various pathologies including cancer. Technical achievements over the last decade provide the basis for the vision that the ability to monitor molecular events in living cells and subjects non-invasively, will result in the elucidation of novel signaling events that contribute to the disease process and provide a unique tool for the development of therapeutic interventions as well as imaging agents for early diagnosis of disease.

Physics Laboratories

The Physics Division has continued its internationally recognized leadership in Radiation Oncology, with strong clinical and research programs which are tightly integrated with the clinical and research efforts of the other faculty in the department.

Some of the accomplishments of the division in Treatment Planning, Functional Imaging, Patient Modeling, Flat Panel Imager Development, NIH Projects, Clinical Operations and Teaching and Training Service are highlighted below (see Major Programs).