Karima Ait-Aissa, PhD, associate in Cardiovascular Medicine, received a $30,000 American Cancer Society Institutional Research Grant from the University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center. Her project, titled “New Approaches to Mitigate Radiation Therapy-Induced Cognitive Impairment,” aims to take a step toward preventing morbidity as a result of radiation therapy.
With this seed grant, Ait-Aissa will identify the underlying mechanisms of endothelial barrier disruption caused by radiation therapy.
“Our studies focus on identifying a molecular pathway in brain microvascular endothelium that may be leveraged to develop novel preventive therapeutics with the ultimate goal to improve the quality of life of cancer survivors,” Ait-Aissa said.
Preliminary data shows radiation therapy releases mitochondrial DNA fragments. These fragments activate a receptor protein, TLR9, in the endothelium and cause cell deterioration. Ait-Aissa’s study hypothesizes that radiation therapy triggers release of mitochondrial DNA and results in oxidative stress and endothelial cell damage. This study proposes inhibiting protein signaling and other therapies as solutions to the endothelial injury from radiation therapy.
This proposed pathway will provide an explanation for long-standing observations that progressive vascular defects develop after completion of radiation therapy, sometimes even years later.
“I believe this financial support will provide me with the foundation necessary to build my emerging, independent research proposal for a competitive NIH-R01 application and offer new understanding of the influence of radiation therapy on the health of cancer survivors,” Ait-Aissa said.