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UT Health Science Center researchers awarded $20 million to develop new radiopharmaceutical cancer therapies

Press releases may be edited for formatting or style | February 22, 2024 Molecular Imaging Rad Oncology

In addition to Drs. Yue, Lee, Tigyi, and Schwartz, the core technical leadership group for the new radiopharmaceutical therapies project include, Sandra Davern, PhD, section head for radioisotope research and development and initiative lead for the Accelerating Radiotherapeutics Through Advanced Molecular Constructs Initiative and the Accelerating Radiotherapeutic Innovations and Applications Initiative at ORNL, and Rachel Patton McCord, PhD, associate professor of biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology at UT Knoxville.

The team’s goal is to advance precision cancer treatment by focusing on a new generation of theranostics—a combination of therapy and diagnostic imaging radioisotope-labeled drugs—that utilizes targeted alpha-emitting radioisotope constructs to kill cancer cells with precision and minimal side effects. The team will also work to establish the education framework and workforce pipeline needed to attract radiopharmaceutical companies to Tennessee.

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Dr. Tigyi has a long history of groundbreaking discoveries in cancer research, including the development of compounds that block cancer cells by stopping their growth and spread. He also has been a pioneer in the development of radiation injury countermeasures. He has worked closely with Dr. Yue, an animal model expert, who has been researching ovarian cancer treatments.

“We are thrilled to continue to work together with Drs. Davern and McCord and their research team across the system on this initiatve,” Dr. Tigyi said. “In my more than 30 years at UT Health Science Center, I have been privileged to work with outstanding researchers dedicated to uncovering treatments for cancer. This project takes that life’s work in a new and exciting direction.”

Dr. Yue’s research is funded by the Department of Defense to prevent and treat the development of therapy resistance of carcinoma cells. Dr. Schwartz, the founding director of the Center for Health Equity at UT Health Science Center, also recently received $2.75 million from the Tennessee Department of Health for a project to develop a personalized support systems to tackle interruptions to radiotherapy in at-risk patients.

Chancellor Buckley expressed his gratitude for the support of the competitive application by ORNL leaders, Director Stephen Streiffer, PhD; Deputy Director Susan Hubbard, PhD; UT-ORII’s interim Executive Director David Sholl; Vice Chancellor for Research, Innovation, & Economic Development at UT Knoxville Deborah Crawford, PhD, and Wesley Byerly, PharmD, interim vice chancellor for Research at UT Health Science Center.

“This radiopharmaceuticals team science project is a great example of the many exciting opportunities ahead of us through statewide collaborations with our vital partners, with the goal of improving health care outcomes for the state,” Dr. Byerly said.

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