Congratulations to the NRG Oncology Members Assigned to NCI Gastrointestinal Task Forces

October 12 2021

The following NRG Oncology Gastrointestinal (GI) Cancer Committee members have recently been appointed or had their appointments renewed to serve on the National Cancer Institute (NCI) GI Task Force for hepatobiliary cancers. Members involved in this task force will meet to discuss concepts and make recommendations for clinical trial planning within their disease subtype.

Laura Dawson, MD, FASTRO

Dr. Dawson is a Clinician Scientist, and a staff Radiation Oncologist in the Radiation Medicine Program at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. She is a Member of the Institute of Medical Science and a Professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Toronto. Dr. Dawson is also the President of the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) Board of Directors.

Dr. Dawson specializes in gastrointestinal malignancies with a focus on hepatobiliary carcinoma and liver metastases. Dr. Dawson also has a clinical interest in the use of technologies such as stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) band image-guided radiation therapy and their role in improving patient outcomes and reducing radiation therapy toxicity for patient. Dr. Dawson has published hundreds of manuscripts in a variety of journals and she currently serves as the Principal Investigator for a randomized phase III trial investigating the use of SBRT in patients with primary liver cancer and she is an investigator on other trials with a range of topics, from palliative radiation therapy for patients with liver cancer to combined radiation therapy /immunotherapy studies for patients with hepatocellular carcinoma.

In addition to being an NRG Oncology GI Cancer Committee core member at NRG Oncology, Dr. Dawson serves as a member for the NRG GI Translational Research Committee, the GI Steering Committee, and was the Principal Investigator of the phase III NRG-RTOG 1112 trial comparing overall survival rates for patients with hepatocellular carcinoma when treated with either sorafenib or SBRT with sorafenib. More information on this trial can be found here.

“Liver cancers, which includes hepatocellular carcinoma and intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma, are an important cause of cancer mortality leading to approximately 800,000 deaths per year.  They are increasing in incidence and mortality in North America, and there is a strong need for more funding. It has been a pleasure to treat patients with liver cancer with radiation therapy on clinical trials, as radiation therapy can lead to rapid improvement in symptoms and sustained tumor control over many years. Ongoing and future clinical trials should help to establish which patients are most likely to benefit from radiation therapy, and how radiation therapy should be combined with other regional or systemic therapies.  The future for liver cancer patients is bright,” stated Dr. Dawson.

Jordan Kharofa, MD

Dr. Kharofa is a Radiation Oncologist at the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center and an Associate Professor of Radiation Oncology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, where he also received his medical degree.

Dr. Kharofa’s clinical and research expertise is within gastrointestinal cancers spanning a broad range of disease sites including anal, rectal, pancreas, hepatobiliary, and esophageal cancer. His research interests include the evaluation of novel radiation techniques that may improve radiotherapy and mitigate toxicity as well as translational efforts involving the gastrointestinal cancer microbiome and live bacterial therapeutics. Dr. Kharofa serves on the NRG GI cancer committees, the NRG Ancillary Project committee, and is also a Senior Associate Editor in Gastrointestinal cancer for the International Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics.

“It is an honor to represent NRG Oncology as part of the NCI Hepatobiliary Task Force. In caring for patients with hepatobiliary cancers, one quickly appreciates that the current standards of care are unacceptable. Though the HB Task force it is both rewarding and motivating to work in a multidisciplinary fashion towards improving outcomes in these patients using the cooperative group framework,” added Dr. Kharofa.

Eugene Koay, MD, PhD

Dr. Koay is an associate professor for the Department of Gastrointestinal Radiation Oncology in the Division of Radiation Oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and is an assistant member of the Department of Nanomedicine at the Houston Methodist Research Institute.

Dr. Koay has an extensive amount of experience in clinical and translational research for GI cancers and their properties in diagnostic imaging. His research expertise covers physical oncology, pancreatic cancers and neoplasms, hepatocellular carcinoma, cholangiocarcinoma, and more. His primary interest is achieving long-term survival for those affected by GI cancers, focusing on early detection and novel treatments for patients. Dr. Koay leads and participates in various local, national, and international research efforts that seek new prognostic and predictive biomarkers, as well as clinical trials testing immune and radiation therapies. He has published over 134 articles and a textbook titled An Introduction to Physical Oncology.

“Participating in the NCI Hepatobiliary Task Force and the NRG GI Committee has broadened my view of GI cancers. There are many individuals who are dedicated to improving the care of our patients through clinical research and basic science. These interactions have helped me in my approach to each patient, as well as the design and interpretation of new clinical trials that I am part of,” remarked Dr. Koay.

Manisha Palta, MD

Dr. Palta is an associate professor and vice-chair of clinical research in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Duke University.

Dr. Palta’s primary clinical focus are gastrointestinal malignancies, and her research efforts span several additional areas of expertise including rectal and anal cancers, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, and pancreatic cancer. At present, she is the primary investigator (PI)of two funded prospective, investigator-initiated studies. One study is evaluating the addition of immunotherapy, pembrolizumab, into the neoadjuvant treatment of resectable esophago-gastric adenocarcinoma treated with chemoradiation and surgical resection. This project assesses clinical outcomes with tissue and blood biomarker collections for tumor and tumor microenvironment immunophenotyping. In addition, she is the PI on a prospective study evaluating quality of life differences in patients receiving ablative liver radiotherapy or interventional radiology liver-directed therapies within patients with hepatocellular carcinoma. More recently she has become engaged in projects incorporating machine learning to assist in radiotherapy treatment planning, treatment related toxicity and outcomes. Her group retrospectively validated a machine learning algorithm which predicted for acute care (emergency room visits and hospitalizations) in patients receiving radiation. This machine learning algorithm was subsequently incorporated into a prospective clinical trial. Dr. Palta has over 70 peer-reviewed scientific publications and is the chair for the 2022 American Society of Clinical Oncology Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium.

“My goal on the NCI HPB taskforce is to shape the landscape and future of clinical trials (particularly the role of radiation) in hepatobiliary cancers to optimize patient outcomes and quality of life,” stated Dr. Palta.

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