Molecular and applied radiobiology
A major factor limiting the progress in precision radiation oncology and cancer management in general is the complexity of the disease. Since many decades the technological innovations and advancements in physics made the radiation oncology a highly personalized cancer regime from a clinical point of view, however radiobiological aspects remain important factors to consider. Their importance is even expecting to grow with immunotherapy as upcoming new pillar in cancer management. A challenge in radiobiological research is the definition of reproducible, reliable and practical models.
At present our research is predominantly focused on the radiobiology of ion beam therapy. We aim to improve the understanding on how the physical advantages of ion beam therapy can be exploited for an improved therapy response in patients. The relative biological effectiveness of protons and carbon ions depends on various biological as well as physical factors that need detailed characterization. So far, treatment planning relies heavily on biological data from non-human and non-cancerous cell line experiments. We undertake detailed characterization in human cancer cell lines and 3D spheroid models to perceptively improve particle treatment planning.
Another research line focuses on the molecular mechanisms of tumor immune evasion and the radiation-induced anti-tumor immune response. Radiation is hypothesized to synergize with immune checkpoint inhibition. A specific aim is the conversion of immunologically cold (irresponsive) tumors, such as pancreatic cancer and sarcomas, into immunologically hot (responsive) tumors. Regulation of immune checkpoint proteins and tumor neoantigen release after particle treatment are studies in advanced organoid models. These combine tumor cells and stromal disease components to recreate the complex tumor microenvironment, which is a significant effector in therapy response and immunomodulation.