UW-Madison Leads in Theranostics Translational Research

Posted on May 2023

UW-Madison Leads in Theranostics Translational Research 

UW-Madison is poised to become a leader in the exciting and emerging field of theranostics, thanks in part to the efforts of Steve Cho, MD to coordinate collaboration and expand critical infrastructure. 

In theranostics treatments, a pharmaceutical agent targets tumors throughout the body. This agent has two radioactive labels: One to identify and image the tumor, and one to deliver targeted radiotherapy to treat the tumor. Theranostics has been hailed by some as the future of cancer treatment. 

As the popularity of theranostics grows, so has the demand for clinical trials. However, not many universities or research centers have the necessary personnel or infrastructure. 

“We’ve been inundated with industry trials,” says Dr. Cho. “The goal is to have the logistical capability to handle that demand.” 

The first necessity is an expert and interdisciplinary team. “Since theranostics involves working with radioactive agents, it’s a unique kind of research with unique demands,” explains Dr. Cho. 

Together with John Floberg, MD, PhD from the Department of Human Oncology and Bryan Bednarz, PhD from the Department of Medical Physics, Dr. Cho has assembled a team that includes radiation oncologists, medical physicists, and radiologists. This multi-disciplinary team is one of the UW Carbone Cancer Center’s dedicated disease-oriented teams (DOTs). Instead of focusing on a particular disease, the “theranostics DOT” will provide their expertise to other disease teams, in addition to performing research and running clinical trials.  

A critical part of this team is the Dosimetry Working Group. Dosimetry is a sophisticated brand of medicine which personalizes treatment. Radiation “doses” are calculated for each patient individually, instead of a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Since theranostics agents are insufficient to treat tumors alone and are usually used in tandem with other therapies, having a team capable of dosimetry is essential. UW-Madison – home to one of the largest Medical Physics departments in the country – is able to put together a group with the necessary expertise. 

However, it takes even more than a skilled team to establish a top theranostics program. In fact, the main problem facing sites across the country is a lack of infrastructure. 

Already, UW has on-site facilities – the Radiopharmaceutical Production Facility (RPF) and the Cyclotron Research Group – that can produce the molecular imaging agents necessary for theranostics research. In addition, the construction of the East Park Medical Center, which will be completed in 2024, will increase UW’s capacity for clinical studies. The new facility will have five rooms with the necessary equipment – like dedicated imaging and radiopharmaceutical tools – for theranostics treatment. 

By being able to host clinical trials, UW will be able to offer patients access to cutting-edge and world-class treatments. 

“We can be at the forefront of the field as an institution and we can provide these new agents as options for patients,” says Dr. Cho. 

By building on a strong foundation of expertise and resources, UW-Madison will be well-equipped to lead the way in translating theranostics treatments from bench to bedside.