ICTS News Success Stories

CTRFP Awardee Taps ICTS Resources to Advance Research on Non-Invasive Brain Cancer Diagnosis

Trying to manage funding a lab while running a lab can be challenging for even the most experienced investigator. For Hong Chen, PhD, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis and of radiation oncology at the School of Medicine, the ICTS provided invaluable assistance on her path to fund research on using ultrasound to diagnosis brain cancer.

The method is developed by a team led by Chen, who have worked on their focused ultrasound-enable liquid biopsy (FUS-LBx) method for several years. It utilizes ultrasonic energy to target tumors deep in the brain. Once identified, the team uses bubbles to briefly open the blood-brain barrier, allowing brain specific molecules to pass through. These molecules are then detectable in a common blood test. After conducting a feasibility study first in mice, followed by a safety evaluation study in mice, and then another study in young pigs, Chen recently received a four-year $2.5 million grant from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to further pursue her research on this method.

Chen’s progress to this point was assisted by several ICTS resources along the way. When she arrived at Washington University in 2015, she was immediately interested in learning more about the ICTS.  “I noticed that the ICTS aligned well with the mission of my research program,” recalls Chen. “The goal of our lab is to develop innovative technology and then translate it to the clinic. So becoming a member of the ICTS seemed like a perfect match.”

Through her ICTS membership, Chen learned about the Scientific Editing Service (SES), offered through the ICTS Research Development Program. The SES works with ICTS members to strengthen and clarify their extramural grant applications and manuscripts. Chen submitted three grants to the SES over the course of two and a half years. All three grants were eventually funded, including a supplement. 

“For investigators like Dr. Chen, the SES provides that additional review to help simplify language and bolster the impact of the proposal,” commented ICTS Research Forum Program Director and Associate Professor of Medicine, Elizabeth Keath, PhD. “And with three grants funded after SES review, the process for Dr. Chen was truly worth the effort.”

Through her experience with the Scientific Editing Service, Chen consulted with ICTS research navigation where she learned about the Clinical and Translational Research Funding Program (CTRFP).  The CTRFP is the internal grant funding program of the ICTS and awards projects that promote the translation of scientific discoveries into improvement in human health. Chen then applied and was awarded in 2019 with a CTRFP award for her research, “Focused Ultrasound Enabled Brain Tumor Liquid Biopsy:  Detecting Brain Cancer without a Knife”. 

For Chen, the CTRFP award provided the opportunity to scale up her research from a small animal study to large animals.  “The CTRFP allowed me to get the primary data critical for my recent NIH award,” recalls Chen. “It laid the foundation so that I could move forward with the project.”

Chen has certainly taken advantage of what the ICTS has to offer.  And she’s given back as well.  She enjoyed her experience as a Mock Study participant so much that she volunteered to participate as reviewer. “I was so impressed by the quality of the study session for the review of my grant,” reflected Chen. “It was a pleasure to serve on the other side of the table as a reviewer so more investigators could benefit from this service.”

Chen’s ICTS involvement has clearly paid off in advancing her research. “We hope to start clinical trials next year in collaboration with Dr. Eric Leuthardt,” said Chen. “It’s exciting to be so close to see the potential impact of our technology on clinical care.”

“Feasibility and safety of focused ultrasound-enabled liquid biopsy in the brain of a porcine model”,  May 4, 2020 in Scientific Report. Read article here.

Video from the Chen Ultrasound Lab details how the focused ultrasound-enabled liquid biopsy (FUS-LBx) method works.  View it here. Read more about Dr. Chen’s research in The Record, “Targeting ultrasound for noninvasive diagnosis of brain cancer”.