July 1, 2008

College Partners With Cancer Center for Research

By Sheila Selman, Goshen News, Ind.

Jul. 1--"We have some beads," Goshen College junior Kathryn Schlabach announced, grinning as she looked up from a light microscope.

Beads, technically termed microspheres, are what she and Goshen College Professor of Biology Stan Grove are looking for in samples of a cancerous liver that has been treated with SIRT yttrium-90 resin microspheres. SIRT is selective internal radiation therapy.

The two are doing research for Dr. Seza Gulec, the head of endocrine surgery, hepatic oncology, molecular imaging and position emission tomography programs at the Goshen Center for Cancer Care.

According to Medical News Today, Gulec and the Center for Cancer Care "have been at the forefront of development of this breakthrough therapy, and have successfully treated hundreds of patients since implementation of the liver cancer therapy program three years ago. The center currently serves as a national and international referral center for patients suffering from liver cancer."

Unlike traditional cancer treatments where radiation is generalized, radioactive SIRT microspheres are delivered through the femoral artery and threaded through the hepatic artery to the tumor, according to the National Cancer Institute. The microspheres, which are bonded with Y-90 that has a physical half-life of about two and a half days, then radiate in very specific locations.

These specific locations are what Schlabach and Grove are looking at slide by slide. Schlabach explained that they chop up samples of the treated liver and then turn that sample into plastic. Once the samples are in little plastic blocks, they are sliced into thin sections and made into slides. The two are looking for beads that are only 30 to 40 microns in size. Once a bead is found, the area around the bead -- up to about 11 millimeters -- is studied to see what damage there might be from the radiation emitted.

"What we're looking for are potential side effects," Grove said.

If a specimen deserves further study, it is stained using the heavy metals lead and uranium and then placed into a vacuum chamber where it is given a conductive coating. The specimen is then placed into an electron microscope. Through this microscope, the internal parts of the cells can be studied.

Grove said researchers at the Goshen Center of Cancer Care want to know the internal changes of cells around those beads, which can only be seen under the electron microscope.

"Radiation should cause some change that we'd like to know about," he said. "We won't be surprised (if some change is found), but we'd be really really pleased if that happens."

Grove and Schlabach said they expect to see the most damage immediately next to the microsphere and then less damage at 11 millimeters. So their research falls somewhere in between.

The goal, Grove said, is to prove Goshen's researchers' statement that chemotherapy and selective internal radiation therapy comprising Yttrium-90 resin microspheres is less damaging than traditional radiation.

"Really the only research that's been done is the hospital and Stan," Schlabach said. Grove has been working on the research for about a year, and Schlabach joined him as part of the eight-week Maple Scholars program.

Schlabach sees the project as a great opportunity to gain practical experience, which will help her in getting into medical school, as well as helping her decide if medical research is something she's interested in as a career.

"It is surprising that they let a 19-year-old undergraduate work on something they actually need," Schlabach said.

On July 31, Schlabach will give her final report about her project to the Maple Scholars group.

Grove said he may have the opportunity to continue his work, but that Dr. Gulec and the Center for Cancer Care have made no promises about extending his work beyond the end of July.


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