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01Dec 2017

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Predicting radiosensitivity using tumor biology

Monique de Jong

Tumor biology is helpful in predicting local recurrence of head and neck tumors after radiotherapeutic treatment, argues Monique de Jong after concluding her PhD research. She used messenger-RNA and microRNA to gain insight into the mechanisms that make a specific tumor less sensitive to radiotherapy.  De Jong will defend her thesis on December 5th at VU University.

Treatment of head and neck cancer consists of surgery and/or radiotherapy, sometimes combined with chemotherapy. Which treatment is most suitable, is usually determined based on clinical characteristics such as size and localization of the tumor, presence of tumor tissue in the lymph nodes and age. For head and neck cancer, treatment with just radiotherapy is quite common. "However, we know that clinical characteristics can only predict recurrence after treatment for up to 25%", says Monique de Jong. "Therefore, we investigated whether tumor biology can improve the prediction."

De Jong focused on messenger-RNA and microRNA. Messenger-RNA is involved in translating the DNA code into the production of proteins in the cell. MicroRNA is able to selectively block messenger-RNA. Both give information about the situation within the cell: is the cell in mitosis, in reparation, is there a lack of oxygen?

Indeed, messenger-RNA and microRNA are well able to predict local recurrence, De Jongs concludes from her studies on tumor cell lines and in patients receiving radiotherapy for head and neck cancer. "This gives us an opportunity to modify the treatment plan when the probability of tumor recurrence is high", she remarks. "For example by choosing for surgery, by increasing the radiation dose or by adding chemotherapy." De Jong sees a lot of potential for methods eliminating those tumor characteristics that prevent radiotherapy from being successful. "For example, messenger-RNA can tell us whether there is a lack of oxygen in the tumor tissue, which might make radiotherapy less effective. By administering a substance that mimics oxygen, this problem can be resolved. There are several similar solutions for other characteristics that make a tumor intrinsically less sensitive to radiation." By eliminating these obstacles, tumor biology can contribute to the best possible survival chances for patients with head and neck cancer.

Details of the defense
Monique de Jong will defend her thesis on December 5th; 11.45 AM. Location: Aula of VU University. The title of her thesis is: Predicting radioresistance in head and neck cancer. Her promotors are Marcel Verheij and Michiel van den Brekel and her copromotor is Hein te Riele. This thesis is not available in print but freely available online.

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