Regenerative Radiation Medicine—the next frontier

Thanks to earlier diagnosis and more effective treatments, more people are surviving their cancer. Their quality of life, however, can often be impacted by the long-term side effects of treatment.  The effects can range from hair loss, to swelling in the arms or legs due to lymphedema, to difficulty chewing or swallowing. 

Minimizing side effects of cancer therapy is always a top priority for the clinicians at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.  “In our radiation medicine program, we have integrated imaging into all of our procedures to more precisely target radiation only to the tumor, minimizing the impact on healthy tissues,” explains Dr. Fei-Fei Liu, Chief of the Radiation Medicine Program. “But we are also exploring how tissue and organ damage that cannot be avoided could be repaired.”

For example, radiation fibrosis (or tissue thickening) may appear months or even years after treatment, and is currently irreversible. This side effect results from a complex process of inflammation, reduced blood flow and oxygen, and excess wound healing at the irradiated site.  Researchers at The Princess Margaret are trying to reverse radiation fibrosis in the laboratory by using stem cells derived from fat tissue with some promising results.

Princess Margaret Cancer Centre is where stem cells were originally discovered 55 years ago.  These important cells, which exist throughout our body, are key factors in healing and in the natural renewal that our body requires. Our researchers are exploring how we might harness stem cells in repairing damage that can be caused by radiation therapy. As part of the University Health Network, the researchers at The Princess Margaret are able to tap into and collaborate with some of the world’s top minds at the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine.

Thanks to the generosity of the Godsoe family, the Peter and Shelagh Godsoe Chair in Regenerative Radiation Medicine has been established at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, and recruitment of a top- calibre candidate is well underway.  Peter Godsoe was Chair and CEO of Scotiabank from 1995 until his retirement in 2003.  Shelagh is an active philanthropist who has served on many not-for-profit boards.

“The Princess Margaret is uniquely positioned in the world to be able to address this challenging frontier in radiation medicine within one comprehensive program,” says Dr. Liu.