Babies being treated for brain cancer have not received traditional radiation therapy since the 1980s. At that time, doctors realized that the side effects of radiation hitting healthy developing brain tissues in very young children was simply too severe. But within the past decade, proton therapy has become available to some of even these youngest patients. This newer radiation therapy method has a more targeted radiation beam that better concentrates its effect on the tumor while hitting fewer healthy tissues — but the nature of its effects on the developing brain are still being studied.
One such study, a doctoral dissertation project by a researcher at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, was recently recognized for its quality of design and potential impact with the John E. Gordon Dissertation Award from the Philadelphia Neuropsychology Society (PNS) and Clinical Neuropsychology Associates.
Daniel Smith, a research associate in the lab of Carol Armstrong, PhD, ABN, director of the Neuropsychology Lab in the Neuro-Oncology Program at CHOP, was announced the award winner at the PNS Monthly Meeting Jan. 27. Smith’s ongoing dissertation work is a continuation of his work in Dr. Armstrong’s lab spanning many years, initially as a clinical research coordinator before now pursuing his doctoral degree in clinical psychology at Drexel University.
Dr. Armstrong and collaborators, including CHOP pediatric neuro-oncologists Jane Minturn, MD, PhD and Michael Fisher, MD, and pediatric radiation oncologist Christine Hill-Kayser, MD, have been collecting pilot data on the neurodevelopmental effects of proton therapy.
Smith’s project will provide additional valuable pilot data to begin to address unanswered questions about the neurodevelopmental and cognitive side effects of proton radiotherapy in infants. He is looking at Diffusion Tensor Imaging of the brains of very young cancer patients and will inspect how the proton radiation and other treatments affect specific areas of the brain.
“A valuable aspect of Dan’s study is that it will include children with brain tumors of the same age who don’t receive proton therapy, for comparison,” Dr. Armstrong said.
Smith noted that he may also compare treatment outcomes to those of older children and adults receiving proton therapy and standard care radiotherapy.
“I feel really good about the project and what we’re doing, both in terms of the potential impact for the kids and other long-term and short-term possibilities for this research,” Smith said. “I am grateful for this dissertation award and its ability to help with advancing this research further. It enables us to generate pilot data with control groups that could give us a much better chance of getting funding later from the National Institutes of Health and other sources.”