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5.17.2016

Medical Student Awarded National Grant for Radiation Oncology Research Project

A third-year medical student being mentored by a Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center researcher was recently awarded a grant from the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) for the next phase of an ongoing study of clinical outcomes for patients with early-stage breast cancer.

Jean-Pierre Obeid will be conducting research using magnetic resonance imaging scans to detect and quantify the amount of adipose tissue (fat) surrounding the tumor in the breast.

“Our goal is to determine if an increased amount of this measure — the peri-tumoral fat ratio — correlates with worse clinical outcomes,” said Obeid, whose study is titled “Multiparametric Evaluation of Preoperative MRI in Early Stage Breast Cancer: Prognostic Impact of Peri-Tumoral Fat.”

Obeid was one of only 25 medical students in the U.S. to receive an RSNA grant, according to Youssef Zeidan, M.D, Ph.D., a Sylvester member and assistant professor of radiation oncology.

“This is a highly competitive, peer-reviewed nationwide program,” said Zeidan, who is advising Obeid on the study. “Jean-Pierre has undertaken this important research project in addition to his demanding medical school classes, and I commend him for his desire to contribute to our knowledge of breast cancer.”

Zeidan added that one of the most important indicators of clinical outcomes is whether the breast cancer has spread to nearby axillary lymph nodes, which can carry the malignant cells throughout the body. “If we can use MRI imaging of the adipose tissue to estimate that risk, clinicians may be able to save more lives, while reducing the need for surgical lymph node removal in some patients.”

Obeid said obesity is associated with adverse outcomes in breast cancer patients.

“Fat-specific cellular proteins called cytokines may be key drivers of breast cancer progression, invasion and metastasis,” he said, adding that it is difficult to determine the risks to individual patients who have a high body mass index, a general indicator of obesity. “We wanted to see if there is a better, noninvasive method to assess the risk in women with early stage breast cancer,” he said.

In the retrospective study, which is now underway, Obeid reviewed the medical records of women who were given a preoperative MRI prior to breast conserving therapy at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center between 2006 and 2015. He then used an established algorithm to determine the size and shape of the adipose tissue around the tumor.

“We hope this non-invasive analysis will provide new insights into tailoring therapy decisions in early stage breast cancer patients,” said Obeid, who earned a bachelor’s degree in physics at the University of Miami and is planning a career in radiation oncology.

Obeid was also awarded the University of Miami’s John K. Robinson Grant to cover the cost of travel expenses for his presentation of preliminary results from the first phase of the study at the annual meeting of the American Society for Radiation Oncology October 18-21, 2015, in San Antonio, Texas.

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