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Researcher Receives Grant to Study Pediatric Proton Therapy

Oct 13, 2021

Read Time: 3 minutes

Matthew Poppe, MD, headshot
Matthew Poppe, MD

Matthew Poppe, MD, physician-scientist at Huntsman Cancer Institute and associate professor of radiation oncology at the University of Utah, received a grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to advance his research in the treatment of pediatric cancers using different types of radiation therapy: proton therapy and photon therapy.

About half of all cancer patients receive radiation therapy, which uses concentrated beams of energy to shrink a tumor. The two primary types of radiation therapy used in cancer treatment include photon therapy and a newer type of radiation called proton therapy. In photon therapy, the beam of energy passes through the tumor and out the body. In proton therapy, the beam of energy stops in the tumor rather than exiting through the body, delivering less radiation to the healthy tissue beyond the tumor.

One of the most common and serious medical problems that happens following pediatric radiation therapy is the development of secondary cancers. Doctors want to understand whether proton therapy delivers better outcomes and fewer secondary cancers.

To date, few studies have evaluated potential benefits or risks of photon therapy compared to proton therapy in children. Huntsman Cancer Institute opened the first proton therapy center in the region earlier this year and began treating adult and pediatric patients, while continuing to offer traditional radiation therapy as well. The addition of a proton therapy facility means Huntsman Cancer Institute can now contribute to research about which type of radiation is most effective for different types of cancer.

This grant will allow Huntsman Cancer Institute to contribute data to a national database of pediatric cancer patient outcomes. "We are one of only 20 members of the U.S. Pediatric Proton Consortium Registry, which collects outcome and toxicity results on kids treated with proton radiation," says Poppe. "In order to make the registry more effective, the National Institutes of Health has selected a few institutions to contribute treatment data from prior years."

As one of those institutions, Huntsman Cancer Institute will provide insights from 14 years of treating pediatric patients with photon radiation therapy.

"The award serves as a recognition from the NCI of the excellence in pediatric cancer care here at Huntsman Cancer Institute and Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital," says Poppe. "Our researchers will help advance this important tool to guide our understanding of how we can deliver the safest, most effective radiation therapy for pediatric cancer patients."

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About Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah

Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah (the U) is the official cancer center of Utah and the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in the Mountain West. The institute is leading the world in scientific discovery, and turning it into unsurpassed cancer care, transforming hope into a reality. Huntsman Cancer Institute focuses on delivering a cancer-free frontier to Utah, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Wyoming (The Area We Serve). Huntsman Cancer Institute is home to over 300 clinical trials, with over 237 research teams studying cancer at any given time and more genes for inherited cancers have been discovered at Huntsman Cancer Institute than at any other cancer center. Huntsman Cancer Institute’s scientists are world renown for understanding how cancer begins and using that knowledge to develop innovative approaches to treat each patient’s unique tumor. Huntsman Cancer Institute was founded by Jon M. and Karen Huntsman.

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