UAMS scientist receives $1.8 million grant for research on radiation-induced lung disease

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A scientist at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) has received his third concurrent R01-type Research Project Grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Daohong Zhou was awarded the $1.8 million grant for research “on a therapy to prevent and possibly reverse lung disease found in patients who undergo radiation therapy for cancer,” according to UAMS.

Zhou is associate director for basic research in the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute. “In this era of extreme competition for NIH grants, it’s very uncommon for an investigator to have three R01-type Research Project Grants,” said Lawrence Cornett, vice chancellor for research for UAMS. “This accomplishment speaks to the significance of Dr. Zhou’s research and the confidence his peers have in his ability to accomplish the goals outlined in each of the projects.”

Zhou has received more than $5 million in NIH funding, and he previously had three concurrent R01-type grants in 2010. In 2016, NIH received 30,106 applications for R01-type grants, and of those, 6,000 received funding, with an average award of $458,287.

“Zhou’s research aims to revolutionize the management of radiation-induced pulmonary fibrosis (RIPF), one of the most damaging side effects resulting from radiation therapy to the chest,” according to UAMS. “For some people, the signs of RIPF may not appear for months or even years following radiation therapy and can cause shortness of breath, coughing, fatigue and other symptoms. Severe complications can lead to lung failure.”

No drugs are available to prevent or reverse RIPF, and treatment options are usually limited to treating the symptoms. “One of Zhou’s research goals is to develop a safe and effective treatment for RIPF using senolytic drugs, which are designed to selectively kill old and senescent cells,” according to UAMS. “Use of such drugs could alter the course of RIPF by providing the first treatment available for the condition.”

The research team is studying whether the “cellular aging, also called senescence, is primarily responsible for initiating the development and progression of radiation-induced pulmonary fibrosis,” Zhou said. “If our hypothesis holds true, clearance of the old cells could not only prevent or delay disease progression, it also could reverse existing tissue fibrosis even after it has begun.”

Since 1992, only 27 UAMS faculty members have had three or more concurrent NIH Research Project Grants.