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Bruce G. Haffty, MD
Professor and Chairman, Department of Radiation Oncology
Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey
Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
New Brunswick, New Jersey
Goal: To improve outcomes in breast cancer by combining targeted therapies with radiation therapy.
Impact: Dr. Haffty has been evaluating new molecular targets that, when used in combination with radiation, could improve patient response to radiation and reduce side effects associated with it. He has also studied the response of women who undergo shorter courses of radiation and how it affects disease control and side effects.
What’s next: He and his team will investigate certain pathways involved in the immune system’s response to radiation that could inform ways to enhance patient response. In addition, they will look at how small changes in a person’s genes could help identify who may be at risk for increased toxicity and side effects from radiation.
Radiation therapy is a powerful tool in preventing the local recurrence of breast cancer after surgery. However, not all patients benefit from radiation because some tumors are resistant to it. Dr. Haffty is studying therapies that could be combined with radiation to improve outcomes in patients vulnerable to resistance and is also seeking ways to reduce treatment times and toxicity in women undergoing radiation for breast cancer.
Full Research Summary
Research area: Pursuing novel combination approaches to improve the effectiveness of radiation in patients who have become resistant to it.
Impact: While radiation is a key component in the prevention of local recurrence of breast cancer after surgery, resistance to this therapy hinders outcomes in some women. Dr. Haffty’s exploration of novel molecular targets that can be used in combination with radiation therapy could help improve response to radiation and reduce its side effects.
Current investigation: He and his team have been exploring how tumors respond to radiation and how a tumor’s environment and immune response may alter the response to radiation. This work will help inform ways to optimize response with radiation and molecular targeted therapy.
Dr. Haffty is also looking at how small changes in DNA, called single nucleotide polymorphisms, may relate to an individual’s toxicity and side effects of radiation. Identifying genetic changes that may alter response to radiation can aid in the guidance and selection of patients undergoing radiation.
What he’s learned so far: His laboratory experiments have shown that combining a novel drug—ONC-201, which selectively targets the cell death pathway known as TRAIL—with radiation dramatically improves the effectiveness of radiation therapy in laboratory experiments, and that its effect involved the immune system. Dr. Haffty and his team continue to explore the mechanisms of this combined therapy, which are not well understood.
What’s next: Dr. Haffty will look at how radiation stimulates certain pathways involved in the immune response, as well how these pathways can be explored to enhance radiation response.
Bruce G. Haffty, MD is Professor and Chairman, Department of Radiation Oncology, Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and New Jersey Medical School and Associate Director, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. His medical school training, internship, residency and chief residency was at Yale. Dr. Haffty was a Professor of Yale’s Department of Therapeutic Radiology, served as residency program director from 1992-2004, and Vice Chairman and Clinical Director from 2002-2005. He moved to the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Cancer Institute of New Jersey in 2005.
Dr. Haffty’s clinical area of expertise is breast cancer, and he has focused on outcomes and prognostic factors women undergoing radiation therapy, evaluating novel molecular markers and potential targets, for which he has had many research grants and conducted numerous clinical and translational research programs. He has published over 300 peer-reviewed articles and 30 book chapters. He is consistently listed as one of the country’s leading physicians by Best Doctors in America and Top Doctors in New York and New Jersey. In addition to a busy clinical practice, Dr. Haffty has served on numerous national committees related to research and education in breast cancer and radiation oncology. He is currently an Associate Editor of the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Dr. Haffty is a Past President of the American Board of Radiology and the American Radium Society, past Chairman of the Residency Review Committee in Radiation Oncology, and the current President and incoming Chairman of the Board of the American Society for Radiation Oncology.