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New "Center of Excellence" in Dresden with "OncoRay"

29.06.2005 - (idw) Forschungszentrum Rossendorf

Germany boosts "Center for Innovation Competence" with 12 mio Euros / Vision of technically optimized radiotherapy On June 28, 2005, the "Center for Innovation Competence for Radiation Research in Oncology" (Zentrum fuer Innovationskompetenz or ZIK OncoRay) has been opened in Dresden. Its main goal is to study methods to treat cancer of individual patients effectively with less side-effects. 21 experts in the fields of medicine, biology, physics, and mathematics work together on research projects at the highest international level. The scientists work with novel equipment, as for example with a PET-CT and a four-dimensional radiation instrument. The Forschungszentrum Rossendorf, which has the most unique technical und medical equipment at its disposal in all of Europe, is part of the basic research program.

The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research is funding two of the three research teams at the ZIK OncoRay in Dresden with 12 mio Euros for the next five years. The official opening of all six ZIK was held at the inauguration of the center in Dresden. "With its three research teams and the new equipment, the ZIK OncoRay is a unique institution in Europe. We were able to build a "Center of Excellence" that will set the standards in radiology in the future. That is why we hope to receive further funding of the Federal Ministry, so that we can sponsor the scientific elite during the next few years", says Prof. Michael Baumann, a world-wide known scientist in the field of radiation therapy.

The main goal of the ZIK OncoRay, which was established by the medical faculty, the Forschungszentrum Rossendorf, and the Dresden University of Technology, is to diagnose the individual nature of the tumors more effectively, to use radiotherapy more precisely, and to find ways to control cancer cells so that they may be more sensitive to radiation.

Even though the OncoRay scientists' main focus is basic research on optimization of radiation therapy, clinical translation to patients should happen as soon as possible. "With precise radiation we can destroy the tumors most effectively", explains Prof. Thomas Herrmann, a founder member of OncoRay. Metastatic cancer can be avoided with a successful therapy on primary tumors. Basic research on cancer therapy could be helpful for about 340,000 people who get sick in Germany every year. About half of those patients are treated with radiation therapy and about half of these cases are treated successfully.

When the idea for ZIK OncoRay was established, economic and operational aspects were taken into consideration: the scientists did some preliminary work and identified the utilization potential of the research results; they not only analyzed the market of pharmaceutical firms and equipment manufacturers relevant in this field of research but also the demand of experts in medical physics. Furthermore, an important part of these considerations was the world-wide competition by renowned institutes working in radiation therapy. The study concluded that after a funding period of five years, ZIK OncoRay should become self-financing.

Targeting the center of the tumor
The research group "Molecular Imaging" is searching for new ways to precisely identify the structures of tumors. The foundation of one of the research priorities of the group is the combined implementation of Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and Computerized Tomography (CT). By combining the two diagnostic procedures the scientists can identify the intensity of metabolism and blood circulation in the center of the tumor. "This allows us to analyze the tumor in detail", indicates the Group Leader Dr. Nasreddin Abolmaali. And the data shows that high doses of radiation can be used on a patient without serious side-effects. "We develop diagnostic procedures for tumors in the lungs, with which we can detect the precise area with limited blood circulation. This area is mostly located in the center of the tumor, and in order to destroy it effectively, higher radiation is needed than on the edges", explains the radiologist. Thanks to modern equipment, doctors can vary the intensity of radiation precisely, which means that the areas sensitive to radiation receive a lower dosage than the ones that allow for poor blood circulation. "With this method we hope to increase successful radiation up to a fourth for example on patients with lung cancer", adds Dr. Abolmaali. In order to promote further research, the scientists at ZIK OncoRay have a novel instrument at their disposal, which merges both diagnostic methods. With this instrument, scientists obtain various shots of the tumor from only one take. Those shots can be combined into one picture, which shows the cancerous tissue from a new perspective.

Interference of cell metabolism increases effectiveness of radiation therapy
The research group "Biological and Molecular Targeting" focuses on tumors in the head and neck area as well as on tumors of the lungs. These tumors can be distinguished according to their properties: whereas tumors in the head and neck area act relatively non-sensitive to radiation and, therefore, very often grow back after the therapy, tumors of the lungs are more sensitive to the radiation process. However, in contrast to head and neck tumors they metastasize more easily. With regard to these properties, Dr. Nils Cordes and his research group hope to find answers by researching cell adhesion molecules.

These molecules are gluing the cells to the tissue and their signaling pathways are responsible for the survival and division of the cells as well as for evacuating the tumors. The research study aims at identifying the relevant molecules of those signaling pathways and to work out the differences not only among different types of tumors but also among individual patients. The goal of the scientists is to use the biological information as a basis for a biologically individualized, technically optimized radiotherapy. Another research study is aimed at developing new and selective drugs for the primary molecules, which are responsible that the cells anchor to each other and to the tissue; furthermore, they make cells sensitive to radiation. Even though molecular drugs, which increase the healing process after radiation, are available, scientist still do not know how these biological drugs influence the process inside the cell. If the scientists at the ZIK OncoRay will be able to interrupt targeted metabolism of the signaling pathways with innovative drugs, they will be able to make tumor cells biologically more sensitive to radiation, to prevent metastatic growth, and, at the same time, to treat the tissue surrounding the tumor more carefully.

Forschungszentrum Rossendorf: Center for molecular imaging
Prior to application of the new therapies on patients, preclinical translation research, as for example on cells and small laboratory animals, is indispensable. Therefore, the Forschungszentrum Rossendorf (FZR) has invested into a unique center for molecular imaging in Europe last year. Small laboratory animals are analyzed with the help of unique state-of-the-art equipment with high-resolution imaging procedure, such as the 7-tesla magnetic resonance tomograph (MRT) and the micro-PET. Also, Positron Emission Tomography (PET) plays a decisive role at the OncoRay Center of Excellence: PET is an innovated imaging procedure that allows detailed insights into the human body. With this procedure even small metastases can be detected. During a PET scan, the patient is injected an insignificant amount of radioactive traceable molecules, for example sugar. As the sugar metabolism of cancerous cells is significantly greater than the one of normal cells, the radioactive sugar is accumulated in the cancerous cells and can be measured by radiation.

Unfortunately, not all types of tumors have a high sugar metabolism, and that is why the scientists at the PET center in Rossendorf are searching intensively for new radioactive drugs. In this context, they have developed a new drug on the basis of an amino acid derivative for the diagnosis of brain tumors. Finally, the FZR is also working on novel PET cameras, which will perform accurate control of cancer treatment with x-rays and will be used for a special therapeutic thermionic accelerator.

Medical Faculty Carl Gustav Carus
Public Relations:
Holger Ostermeyer
Phone: +49 (351) 458 4162
Fax: +49 (351) 458 4388

Forschungszentrum Rossendorf
Public Relations:
Dr. Christine Bohnet
Phone: +49 (351) 260 2450
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