Grumbach collaboration to examine impact of radiation on blood vessels

Isabella Grumbach, MD, PhD, professor in Cardiovascular Medicine, and Randy Kardon, MD, PhD, professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, received a five-year, R01 grant for $2.5 million from the National Institutes of Health. The duo will study the effects of radiation therapy on small blood vessels, also known as microvessels, in cancer survivors.

Every year, more than 850,000 Americans are diagnosed with some form of cancer, and two-thirds of these patients are treated with radiation therapy. However, Grumbach says, despite improvements in cancer tissue targeting techniques, radiation can still injure healthy tissue surrounding the treatment area. Using recently developed imaging techniques, Grumbach and Kardon’s study will examine radiation injury in the retina’s small blood vessels following treatment of eye melanoma. In fact, many patients after treatment experience some degree of vision loss.

“We hypothesize that retinal microvessel imaging in a living organism is a novel strategy to evaluate normal tissue injury in small blood vessels after radiation treatment for cancer over time and that these imaging techniques can be used as a tool to screen for new drugs that prevent or treat normal tissue injury,” Grumbach said.

These new imaging devices allow Grumbach and Kardon to measure the blood flow and structure of the small arteries in the eye, which will help identify early signs of capillary loss. The research team will analyze the microvessels in both human and mice models with gene alterations.

“We want to find out whether these genes alter the blood flow changes with the big-picture intent to develop new treatments,” Grumbach said.

To complete their research, Grumbach and Kardon have built a collaborative research group with Culver Boldt, MD, professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences; Mona Garvin, PhD, professor in the College of Engineering and researcher with the Iowa Institute for Biomedical Engineering; Johannes Ledolter, PhD, professor in the Tippie College of Business; Timothy Waldron, MS, associate of Radiation Oncology; Doug Spitz, PhD, professor of Radiation Oncology; and Bryan Allen, MD, PhD, associate professor of Radiation Oncology. Grumbach’s previous work studying microvessel damage from radiation therapy was supported by an Innovative Project Award from the American Heart Association. This new grant is a continuum of efforts to build a research area in cardio(vascular)oncology in the Abboud Cardiovascular Research Center.

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