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Kennedy Award goes to Cancer Advanced-Technology Team

The Cancer Advanced-Technology Team that is developing an imaging system to limit the spread and/or recurrence of that disease has been named the winner of CIMIT’s annual Edward M. Kennedy Award for Healthcare Innovation.

The honor went to a research group led by Yolonda Colson, MD, PhD, Mark Grinstaff, PhD, and John Frangioni, MD, PhD. As in the case with most cutting-edge CIMIT projects, the principal participants represent different institutions: Dr. Colson is a surgeon and director of the Women’s Lung Cancer Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Dr. Frangioni is co-director of the Center for Imaging Technology and Molecular Diagnostics at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston; and Dr. Grinstaff is an associate professor of chemistry and biomedical engineering at Boston University and head of a research laboratory there.

“I am very pleased with this selection,” said CIMIT Executive Director John Parrish, MD. “The researchers have unique areas of expertise, and they are working on very innovative research that has a great potential to help vulnerable patients.”

With more than 400,000 locoregional recurrences in cancer each year in the U.S., successful approaches to prevent a tumor from returning at the site of surgery or in the nearby lymph nodes are of critical importance in the fight against cancer and the quality of life for these patients.

The team is developing a system to identify lymph nodes that might have early signs of cancer. A device known as Flare involves injecting a special chemical into a target – such as a cancerous tumor – and then using near-infrared light to highlight the target on a monitor. Using a very low amount of chemicals, researchers can watch in real time and find the lymph nodes most likely to have cancer. The system has the potential to change the way clinicians treat lung cancer, which is a major killer for both men and women.

Drs. Frangioni, Grinstaff and Colson all had independent connections with CIMIT through their separate project grants and areas of interest. CIMIT has permitted and, more importantly, facilitated the fusion of ideas whereby the advances of lymph node trafficking with near-infrared fluorescence imaging and the science of polymer-based drug delivery with nanotechnology have been leveraged to begin to develop a translational approach to regionally treat hidden lymph node metastases in cancer, and to avoid the often severe side-effects associated with more traditional therapies such as systemic chemotherapy or radiation.

“CIMIT has been really helpful in our work,” Dr. Colson said of her own portion of the research. “It has kept an idea alive, and provided financial awards so that I can pursue proof of concept. Not many organizations would get involved with such an early-stage idea. But CIMIT took the risk and now I think we are making progress that one day could help patients.”

CIMIT was to be the “tipping point” of an idea with the goal of improving cancer care to a far greater audience than any one idea or investigator could have ever achieved alone. It was through CIMIT support, introductions, and speaking venues that a new combined translational initiative grew out of these initial individual projects into a future with far greater potential to save thousands of lives each year than could have been done in isolation.

The award was named in honor of Senator Kennedy, senior senator from Massachusetts, who has been a pioneer in working for improvements in healthcare.

“I commend Yolonda Colson, John Frangioni, and Mark Grinstaff for their promising research on new approaches to make cancer treatments more effective, reduce rates of recurrence and adverse side effects, and improve patient survival. Their cooperative research, drawing together widely different areas of expertise, is exactly the kind of work that CIMIT was created to inspire," Senator Kennedy said.

Past winners of the honor have been: CIMIT Operating Room of the Future team, (2002); CIMIT Simulation team, (2003); CIMIT Optical Imaging team (2004); CIMIT-Russian Avian Flu team, (2005); CIMIT Image Guided Therapy team (2006); and CIMIT Medical Device PnP Program (2007).



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