RESEARCHER spotlight BY T YLER F. BECK , MS, PHD, ASTRO SCIENTIFIC PROGRAM OFFICER, T YLER.BECK@ASTRO.ORG EXAMINING CANCER RESISTANCE TO RADIATION THERAPY TO IMPROVE OUTCOMES FOR PATIENTS 2016 winner of the ASTRO Junior Faculty Award, Stephanie Markovina, MD, PhD, is a clinician-researcher in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Washington University in St. Louis. Her work to understand molecular mechanisms of radiation resistance in cervical cancer and other solid and HPV-related tumors integrates clinical care with basic research and employs her strong cell and molecular biology background. When asked about her motivation for specializing in radiation oncology, Dr. Markovina explains, “I learned in medical school that I was drawn to the more procedural approaches to cancer treatment, and radiation oncology allowed me to follow that sort of technical approach to treatment while still allowing me to directly interact with and care for my patients.” During her residency at Washington University, she was drawn to her current research interests of studying radiation resistance in cancers because, “I saw patients coming to us with seemingly similar or even identical cancers. And yet after being treated in the same way, some would respond favorably and some would have much less favorable outcomes.” The prospect of outcomes prediction leading to tailored treatments, also known as precision medicine, was appealing to her. After completing her residency, she joined the faculty there in 2015. Dr. Markovina’s lab is now attempting to better understand the cellular mechanisms of resistance to radiation by exploring how the protein, squamous cell carcinoma antigen (SCCA), alters tumor cell response to radiation. SCCA is a protease inhibitor that is elevated in some patients with cervical cancer and indicates a poor response to chemoradiation. Dr. Markovina is interested in exploring how SCCA-related signaling pathways might be modulated in 30 | ASTROnews • SPRING 2017 cervical cancer and other tumor types to increase the effectiveness of radiation and chemotherapy and reduce the risk of recurrence. Research into determining the mechanisms of resistance to radiation therapy, like the work in Dr. Markovina’s lab, could lead to novel targeted therapies that could significantly improve both morbidity and mortality figures for patients with squamous cell carcinoma. She hopes that the mechanisms she is studying could be relevant to many types of cancers, and relevant to explaining resistance to different types of therapies. If that is the case, her research could open up entirely new classes of therapies for many cancers. Dr. Markovina’s many excellent mentors along the road to becoming a world-class researcher have spurred on a strong sense of responsibility to “pay it forward” through her own mentorship endeavors—which include teaching courses for residents and bringing excited future physician-scientists into her lab to contribute to the research as much as possible. “It’s really important, both practically and symbolically, that ASTRO continues to sponsor grants,” she says. “There are not too many research funding options available for radiation oncology researchers, especially on the career development side. I’m very grateful to ASTRO for the Junior Faculty Award, and for me, the ASTRO Annual Meeting has been the most important outlet for my research findings.” For more on the award, please visit www.astro.org/ JFA. Dr. Markovina is currently an assistant professor at the Washington University in St. Louis. Prior to this she was a Research Fellow at the National Cancer Institute with David Gius, MD, PhD, in the Radiation Biology Division. She earned her MD and PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology, studying NF-kappaB biology in Multiple Myeloma under the direction of Shigeki Miyamoto, as part of the Medical Scientist Training Program at the University of Wisconsin.