Maximizing the impact of radiation therapy

With Masonic Scholar support, Lindsey Sloan, radiation oncology faculty member and one of the University’s newest recruits, is dedicating her work in the Masonic Discovery Lab to personalizing and maximizing the effectiveness of radiation therapy for people affected by brain tumors.

Q&A with Masonic Scholar Lindsey Sloan, M.D., Ph.D.


Lindsey SloanTell us about your research and what brought you to the U.

As a medical student at Temple University, I loved radiation oncology. At the same time, I was discovering that I wouldn’t be satisfied with working exclusively in the clinic because I believed the science didn’t go far enough. During my third year of medical school, I decided to also pursue a Ph.D. I trained in a neurovirology laboratory where I studied a peripheral blood cell biomarker as part of an NIH-funded NeuroAIDS research project, and was also introduced to cancer immunology. I became especially interested in the prospect of using biomarkers in the peripheral blood to better understand inflammation in the brain. 

I then pursued a residency at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine where I was able to study how the immune system is affected by radiation therapy. What we’re coming to find is that while radiation therapies are successful in fighting cancer and improving survival in cancer patients, there is a chance we could make them even better. There are potentially ways in which we can improve them to make the immune system more responsive even after treatment.

All of this has been the basis for my work here at the University of Minnesota, where I study the peripheral blood cell response to radiation therapy.   

What were some of your most striking findings on how radiation therapy impacts the immune system? 

Basically, the effect of radiation on immunity is not an on and off kind of response. Things are always changing. When you give someone a six-week course of radiation, a before and after look does not tell the complete story. There are changes that are occurring throughout the entire course of radiation, and that’s something we really have not appreciated within the larger scientific community. 

My goal is to be able to personalize radiation therapy based on the immune responses we see. So if a patient starts to show immunosuppression related to their treatment, we could take steps to prevent an immunosuppressed response. We could hypothetically adjust radiation based on what we see in the blood. The goal is to personalize radiation therapy based on the systemic immune response, which hasn’t been done yet, but could be really exciting. 

How are things going as you settle into your new role at the U?

I’m a physician scientist who specializes in the care of patients with brain tumors with radiation therapy. As it relates to my expertise, which is focused on myeloid cells in glioblastomas, my lab has been working to learn more about myeloid-derived suppressor cells and ways we might target them with therapy. My new lab manager just started and we are getting ready to launch clinical studies this summer. My lab is co-localized with the Brain Tumor Program in the Masonic Discovery Lab, with Drs. David Largaespada and Clark Chen, and other really smart scientists. I’ve been able to develop collaborative projects with them, as well as other researchers in the Department of Radiation Oncology. 

I understand you’re hoping to create a specialized clinic as well. Can you say more about that? 

First, we’ll need to complete a few pilot studies. But, yes, that’s the goal, to establish the first immune-guided radiation therapy clinic here at the University of Minnesota. It would be the first of its kind. 

What has it meant to you to receive Masonic Scholar support? 

This support is one of the reasons I wanted to come to the University of Minnesota. The fact that I’ve gotten funding from Minnesota Masonic Charities and have been able to get started in my research means so much. Personalized radiation therapy is an untapped area that could help us immensely in oncology. Without Masonic support, my work would not be possible. It gives junior investigators like me who are trying to get their start in the NIH realm a real chance. I’m very appreciative, and I hope they know how thankful I am.


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