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Department of Radiation Oncology

Department of Radiation Oncology

Radiation oncology chief resident awarded for prostate cancer research

May 19, 2010

Baoqing Li, chief resident in the Department of Radiation Oncology at UC Davis Cancer Center, was honored with the prestigious Young Oncologist Essay Award and gave an oral presentation at the 92nd Annual Meeting of American Radium Society earlier this month in Cancun, Mexico.

Dr. Li © UC Regents 2010
Baoqing Li

About 90 percent of prostate cancer patients present with early-stage disease. However, in one-third of patients treated with radiation therapy, some tumor cells become resistant to radiation and survive treatment, leading to an increase in PSA levels over time.  The award recognizes Li’s work toward the prevention of the development of these radiation-resistant prostate cancer cells.

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) help regulate a number of cellular processes, including cancer cell death which can be induced by radiation treatment.  However, Li and his team found that an abnormally high level of miRNA-106b was able to override the cancer death responses – essentially negating the effects of treatment.  The discovery points to anti-miR-106b as a potentially therapeutic means to overcome radiation resistance within those prostate cancer cells.

Li, who gained research expertise in molecular cancer biology during his doctorate degree at  University of Miami, says he faced various difficulties early in the project.  But he made significant progress under the supervision of UC Davis Cancer Center Director Ralph deVere White.  “Dr. deVere White always gave his insightful suggestions and warm encouragement,” Li says.  The manuscript, with deVere White as principle investigator, is under review at the journal The Prostate.

Li was encouraged to apply for the award by Assistant Professor and Residency Program Director Allen Chen of the Radiation Oncology Department, who won the same award in 2004 as a resident at UC San Francisco.  “Historically, this award always went to places like Stanford, UC San Francisco, Sloan-Kettering and Washington University,” Li says. “Dr. Chen considered this recognition a remarkable achievement for our residency program.”

Richard Valicenti, chairman of radiation oncology, adds, “Clearly, we are making tremendous progress as a department.”

Li’s presentation went well. “After my talk, the chair of the scientific program committee, Dr. Quynh-Thu Le from Stanford, and Dr. Thomas Buchholz, chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center, congratulated me in person for this significant work,” he says.

The abstract was published in a supplement to the journal Oncology, a professional peer-reviewed journal.  The supplement was a special issue containing the proceedings of the American Radium Society’s annual meeting.  Li also received a $500 honorarium plus funds to cover travel and meeting expenses.

Li, who received his medical degree from New York Medical College and his Ph.D. training at the University of Miami, became interested in radiation oncology because the field combines basic science research in both physics and biology with clinical patient care.  “My daily work is to try to cure cancer,” he says.

In his spare time, the Davis resident enjoys spending time with his family, swimming and exploring the culinary, cultural and outdoor worlds of Northern California.  Upon graduation in June, he will move back to the East Coast to be an assistant professor and attending in the Department of Radiation Oncology, at Cornell University’s Weill Cornell Medical College.

The American Radium Society was founded in 1916 and is the oldest society devoted to the study and treatment of cancer.  The society’s annual meetings blend scientific presentations, lectures, debates, keynote addresses and panel discussions to examine recent advances in diagnosis and treatment of cancer, in addition to experiencing a multidisciplinary approach to cancer care.