The UAB Department of Radiation Oncology: A Historical Primer

From our modest beginnings in the basement of the Jefferson Tower in 1969, the Department of Radiation Oncology at UAB has ascended to the technological vanguard of its field.

Over the past decades we have evolved from our roots as a clinical-based unit to that of a world-recognized leader in clinical care, education, and research. These progressions have mirrored the passions of each Chairperson, yielding a winning blend of transformations that have continually built upon the successes of the former. And while each Chair has kept the solid foundations sculpted by their predecessors, each has added a building block of their own, advancing the scope and breadth of our mission, and thus bolstering their own legacy. The organization has benefitted from a strong continuity of leadership, maintained by the three Chairs who have presided over the department’s 40-year history:

Robert E. Roth, M.D.

At UAB from 1955-1985
Chair, 1969-1985

Merle M. Salter, M.D.

At UAB from 1967-1995
Chair, 1986-1995

James A. Bonner, M.D.

At UAB from 1998-Present
Merle M. Salter Endowed Chair, 1998-Present
UAHSF President, 2012-present

Many extraordinary events and achievements have transpired under the guidance of these leaders. Here are just a few of the notables within the confines of each of the three principal missions of our program:

  • UAB Medicine and Russell Medical Center in Alexander City, AL partner to enhance oncology services provided in the Lake Martin and surrounding areas with the UAB Medicine – The Cancer Center at RMC, 2012
  • UAB is first medical center in the world to utilize intrafraction motion review (IMR), or "triggered imaging," to continually monitor tumor location during radiosurgery for lung cancer, 2011
  • UAB's Hazelrig-Salter Radiation Oncology Center is the first U.S. site to acquire TrueBeam™ STx technology post FDA approval, 2010
  • Grand opening of the new Hazelrig-Salter Radiation Oncology Center, 2010
  • 1st site in the world treating with Rapid Arc ™, 2008
  • 1st in our region with Tomotherapy, 2004
  • The Kirklin Clinic at Acton Road opens to provide UAB Comprehensive Cancer Care in North Shelby County, 2002
  • 1st in the Southeast to perform IMRT, 32nd in the world, 1999
  • A leader in Gamma Knife Radiosurgery since 1995
  • Among the first to perform linear accelerator-based radiosurgery
  • 1st in Ultrasound based Image Guidance, 1974
  • 1st department in the region to separate Therapeutic Radiology from Diagnostic Radiology, 1969
  • In the 2012-2013 fiscal year, the Medical Residency Program received reaccreditation by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), accrediting the program for another five years.
  • The Medical Physics Residency Program received full accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Physics Educational Programs, Inc. (CAMPEP) through 2017. This was the first accreditation for the program, which began in 2011.
  • New educational partnership with Varian Medical Systems, Inc. launched. “SRS and SBRT Delivery with Eclipse and TrueBeam” course will begin in 2014.
  • UA Health Services Foundation appoints Dr. James A. Bonner president, 2012
  • First Holman Pathway resident, Dr. Alex Whitley, begins training, 2010
  • In 2009, the department residency program approved for expansion to ten residents. This represents continued expansion of the Educational Program from four residents in 1998.
  • Top 10% board scores amongst all U.S. programs for several years running
  • Ben Blackburn’s textbook Blackburn's Introduction to Clinical Radiation Therapy Physics published, 1989
  • New extramural funding obtained during 2012-13 included, the American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen for the Cure Career Catalyst Grant, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute, AbbVie Inc., American College of Radiology Radiation Therapy Oncology Group Foundation and Mobius Medical Systems, bringing in a total of approximately $1.14 million of new extramural funding to the university.
  • Of particular significance, Dr. Yang received a Susan G. Komen Career Catalyst Research Grant, which began Aug. 17. This represents 3 years of funding, bringing in a total of $450,000.
  • UAB was listed as a Top 10 institution by the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group (RTOG) for data quality, boasting a data quality score of 99.61 for its work on RTOG clinical trials through the department’s Clinical Studies Unit.
  • Dr. Eddy Yang, M.D., PhD received a two-year contract with Eli Lilly for $163,953 for the project “Combination EGFR and Chk1 Inhibition With or Without Irradiation in Head and Neck Cancer.”
  • Drs. Markus Bredel and Christopher Willey receive grants from the UAB Brain Tumor SPORE Program to support their research into glioblastoma treatment.
  • Ivan Brezovich, Ph.D., designs and constructs in vitro system replicating patient-treatment conditions, allowing scientists to examine cancer cells in the laboratory that were exposed to tumor-specific modulation frequencies, December 2011.
  • The National Brain Tumor Society awards the Mary Catherine Calisto Systems Biology Planning grants to UAB researchers; including Radiation Oncology researcher Markus Bredel, M.D., PhD to develop a systems-biology approach to understanding how best to treat brain tumors,2011
  • Researchers complete 2 studies investigating the safety and effectiveness of a new treatment schedule for prostate cancer using hypofractionated radiotherapy.
  • Dr. Ruby Meredith begins Trial of Intraperitoneal 212Pb-TCMC-Trastuzumab for HER-2 Expressing Malignancy, 2010
  • Eddy S. Yang, M.D., Ph.D., receives a $250,000 grant from the Gabrielle’s Angel Foundation for Cancer Research for research to ease the neurocognitive side-effects of cranial irradiation in people with leukemia, especially in children
  • Eddy Yang, M.D., Ph.D. receives Sidney Kimmel Foundation for Cancer Research grant to fund head and neck cancer research, 2010
  • The NCI grants $11.5 million to the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, under the leadership of senior scientist and pancreatic SPORE leader Donald Buchsbaum, Ph.D. to explore groundbreaking pancreatic cancer research, prevention and treatment, 2010
  • Eddy Yang, M.D., Ph.D awarded Department of Defense grant to study novel therapies to treat prostate cancer, 2010
  • Jennifer De Los Santos, M.D. conducts partial breast irradiation regimen trials with Translational Breast Cancer Research Consortium, 2010
  • First characterization of the combination of (monoclonal antibody) anti-EGFR (Cetuximab) and radiation in patients with head and neck cancer which led to pivotal phase III trial coordinated by Dr. James A. Bonner (PI) and the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center (2001). This study resulted in FDA approval (2006) and use of this treatment world-wide Originally developed Chlorotoxin as a brain tumor therapy (Transmolecular)
  • Optimization of Death Receptor Therapy for Malignant Glioma
  • A pioneer in radio immunotherapy (RIT) research (Zevalin, Bexxar)
  • Key player in four NIH SPORE grants with UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center
  • Hyperthermia induction research

This department has also experienced the good fortune of having many of its present stewards on staff for a long time. The longest tenured current employees in Radiation Oncology are:

  1. Jill Caranto (since 1970)
  2. Robert Kim, M.D. (since 1972)
  3. Ivan Brezovich, Ph.D. (since 1975)
  4. Sharon Spencer, M.D. (since 1983)