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Caigang Zhu receives NIBIB Trailblazer Award

August 11, 2022

Caigang Zhu, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering, has received a National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering Trailblazer R21 Award for developing novel optical metabolic strategies to provide personalized radiotherapy for breast cancer patients. 

The award allows early-career investigators to explore highly innovative and impactful research projects. Zhu is the project's principal investigator and was awarded more than $600,473 over three years. The research will build on novel optical spectroscopic technology that provides non-destructive metabolic characterization of in vitro cell models and patient-derived tumor organoids for translational applications.  

To maximize cancer patients' survival rate post-therapy, patient-derived organoids are widely used to study the role of tumor metabolism reprogramming in tumor growth and survival under therapeutics stresses. Though conducting longitudinal metabolic measurements on the same tumor sample during a course of therapy is critical for therapeutic studies, there are surprisingly few techniques that can provide a systems-level view of tumor metabolism on organoids non-destructively. Relying on the non-invasive nature of optical technique, this project seeks to fill the critical technical gap by developing an optical spectroscopic assay that will enable non-destructive high-throughput metabolism measurement on in vitro cancer models and organoids in real-time to advance cancer research. To demonstrate the translational potential of the technology, Zhu formed a multidisciplinary research team at the University of Kentucky to develop novel metabolic strategies for breast cancer radiotherapy responses pre-evaluation. 

The team members include Teresa Fan (an expert in tumor metabolism and organotypic tumor culture), DXiaoqin Wang (an expert in breast cancer radiation imaging and diagnosis),Dr. Peng Wang (an expert in the machine learning algorithm), and Chi Wang (an expert in biostatistics). 

Through these translational studies, the team endeavors to move toward personalized RT that will add to the standard of care for Breast Cancer patients. If successful, the imaging techniques developed could impact patient care at the Markey Cancer Center, the National Cancer Institute-designated center in the entire state of Kentucky. This project was initially supported by the University Kentucky Igniting Research Collaborations pilot grant awarded in 2021.  

Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R21EB032515. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.