MERIT Award Recipient: Martin Hauer-Jensen, M.D., Ph.D., F.A.C.S.
Molecular Pathogenesis of Radiation Enteropathy
The number of cancer survivors in the U.S. increases exponentially and currently exceeds 10 million. Unfortunately, many of these survivors, while being cured of their original malignancy, suffer from debilitating treatment-related side effects. Enhancing our knowledge about the basic biology and clinical management of these side effects is an important step toward improving the overall outcome of cancer therapy.
Despite recent advances in radiation treatment planning and delivery techniques, intestinal dysfunction and/or scarring of intestinal tissue due to the radiation treatment (intestinal radiation fibrosis) are common side effects after treatment of pelvic or abdominal tumors. The emphasis of Dr. Hauer-Jensen's research program is to determine the mechanisms underlying radiation-induced side effects in the intestine and to develop strategies by which to minimize them. The ultimate goal is to make radiation therapy more tolerable, safer, and more effective.
It was previously believed that radiation injuries in normal tissues, including intestine, result exclusively from radiation-induced cell death. However, it is now recognized that many functional and secondary changes contribute substantially to the clinical manifestations of radiation toxicity. These include interactions among numerous cell types within the intestine and the rest of the body, including epithelial cells, mesenchymal cells, vascular endothelial cells, nerve cells, immune cells, and other cell types. The focus of Dr. Hauer Jensen's MERIT award research is to investigate how specific interactions among the nervous system, immune system, and coagulation system influence the development of acute and chronic intestinal radiation injury.
These studies will provide insight into the cellular and molecular mechanisms responsible for regulating the development of intestinal radiation mucositis (inflammation of mucous membranes of the intestine due to radiation) and radiation fibrosis (excessive formation of connective tissue due to radiation), and identify and assess targets for intervention that may eventually be translated into clinical use. Knowledge gained from this research will help ensure that treatment with radiation not only achieves maximal tumor control or elimination, but also an optimal long-term functional outcome.