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The Division of Radiation Biology was established by the O'Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB and the UAB Department of Radiation Oncology in October 1990. Donald J. Buchsbaum, Ph.D., was recruited as Division Director to develop an experimental radiation biology and immunotherapy program using unlabeled and radiolabeled antibodies that bind to antigens expressed on the surface of cancer cells.

The division has developed innovative approaches to radioimmunotherapy of cancer using novel targeting molecules. This research has contributed to the funding of Ovarian and Breast Cancer Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) at UAB by the National Cancer Institute, and funding to the Cancer Center from the Avon Products Research Foundation for breast cancer research. In addition, the Division of Radiation Biology has been in the forefront of research into the treatment of cancer in experimental models with a combination of gene therapy and radiation therapy. This has resulted in a SPORE in Brain Cancer and grants and contracts from the National Cancer Institute, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the U.S. Department of Defense, with emphasis on colon, ovarian, and prostate cancer.

Another significant finding was unlabeled antibody against epidermal growth factor receptor resulted in increased sensitivity of head and neck cancer to radiation. This was translated into a clinical phase I trial in head and neck cancer at UAB. A phase III trial testing this new combination therapy with UAB as the lead institution showed significantly increased local tumor control and survival in patients with head and neck cancer. This resulted in FDA approval of this therapy for patients with head and neck cancer.

The division has also played a central role in the evaluation of death receptor antibodies for cancer therapy, and has received support for this research from Daiichi Sankyo through the UAB/Sankyo Program for Rheumatic Diseases and Cancer Research in the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases Center, and from the Pancreatic Cancer SPORE and Accelerated Brain Cancer Cure Inc.

The division is also carrying out research on antibody-drug conjugates for targeted cancer therapy and the use of adenoviral vectors to produce single-chain antibodies against epidermal growth factor receptor as radiosensitizing agents. Other replicative and non-replicative vectors containing genes that produce chemosensitization and radiosensitization are being studied. Additional studies are being conducted with novel radiosensitizers.

New and ongoing projects

In 2023, upon Dr. Buchsbaum’s retirement, Lewis Shi, M.D., Ph.D., Koikos-Petelos-Jones-Bragg ROAR Endowed Professor for Cancer Research at UAB, was appointed as Director of Radiobiology. Dr. Shi offers the RadBio lecture series to radiation oncology residents for their board exam. Also, under Dr. Shi's leadership, the division has opened new lines of research to delineate mechanisms underscoring biolgical effects from different forms of radiation, including the renaissanced ultra-high dose rate radiation (FLASH-RT). To this end, both Dr. Shi and  Christopher Willey, M.D., Ph.D., Hale-Stephens ROAR Endowed Professor for Distinctive Research and Associate Vice Chair of Translational Research, have ongoing FLASH-RT projects sponsored by Varian, a Siemens Healthineers company.

Another active research area is to understand how radiation interacts with the immune system, a long foregone area that has regained great traction in recent years, thanks to the unprecedented successes from immune checkpoint blockers (i.e., anti-CTLA-4, anti-PD-1/L1, and anti-LAG-3).

All residents and students interested in these studies are welcome to contact us.