Better, faster breast cancer treatment is dream of winners of $100,000 competition at UC

CINCINNATI – A team that's dreaming of better, faster treatment of breast cancer has won the $100,000 prize at University of Cincinnati that 11 teams of eight researchers vied for in a frenetic five-hour process.

Dr. William Barrett, director of the UC Cancer Institute, revealed that the previously anonymous donor of the prize money was the late Carl Linder, Jr., who had asked Barrett to use the money for collaboration and education. Lindner died in 2011.

Led by Dr. Kris Huang, assistant professor of radiation oncology, the winning team proposed shortening the process of diagnosing and treating breast cancer using radiotherapy and nanoparticles.

The current process for treating women afflicted with breast cancer involves screening, followed by imaging, biopsies, pathology review and, finally, treatment. "If you include all of that together, it can take the patient a better part of a year to get through that process," Huang told WCPO.

Huang and his team hope to condense that process through the use of nanotechnology – employing clusters of molecules to first deliver detection agents to cancer cells and then to deliver radiation or chemotherapy. The nanoparticles would be engineered to find their way to the cancer cells through IV treatment.

Depending on where the research leads, use of the nanoparticles could mean reducing the terrible side effects of treatment by dosing patients with smaller but targeted amounts of radioactive particles or chemotherapy. Or it could mean deploying new, more toxic medicines in targeted doses that might not be tolerable delivered in larger doses by conventional means.

The team was co-led by Huang and Lisa Privette Vinnedge, a research instructor at the UC College of Medicine and a Cincinnati Children's Hospital researcher.

The team included a surgeon, other oncologists, scientists and an engineer, whose expertise on carbon nanotubes and ultrasound technology helped the group form their proposal, Huang said.

The contest occurred at a first-of-its-kind research retreat on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. It matched UC doctors and medical researchers with UC engineers, physicists, pharmacists and others to create – on the spot – new research to prevent, detect or treat cancer.

The UC professionals were randomly divided into eight groups who had two hours to brainstorm about new research. They reconvened to vote amongst themselves on the best three projects.
"It couldn't have gone any better," Barrett said Monday. We had 88 physicians and scientists, engineers and physicists collaborating." Many met each other for the first time Saturday, he said.

By a show of hands, more than 80 percent said Saturday's work may lead to future collaboration among the new teammates.

"What's great about this is the collaboration, having different pieces of this puzzle put together," Barrett said.

"Some of the other ideas were great. Some used nanoparticle research, some used existing drugs for other purposes that might help cancer treatment," he said. "The plan is to catalog all of these ideas and send them to all 88 participants and many others."

The money that Lindner donated was only enough for this inaugural event, but Barrett hopes to do it again with financial help from regional research corporations and perhaps bringing in other hospital groups or universities.

Huang said he would be game. "I definitely would participate," he said. "This is something that the entrepreneurial tech community has done for some time. I think that borrowing the idea for the health care and education community is a great idea."

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