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BioE’s Jaeyeon Choi Awarded $45,000 to Develop New Treatment for Metastatic Melanoma

Jaeyeon ChoiPITTSBURGH, PA (April 14, 2017) … The Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI) awarded Jaeyeon Choi, a graduate student in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, a two-year, $45,000 research grant for her proposal to use targeted radionuclides in the treatment of metastatic melanoma, also known as Stage IV melanoma.

Radionuclide therapy is a rapidly growing branch of nuclear medicine, according to SNMMI. The treatment uses radioactive drugs called radiopharmaceuticals to target and eliminate cancer cells, often directly and with limited damage to the surrounding healthy tissue. Researchers have already developed targeted radionuclide therapies to treat certain diseases such as prostate cancer, and organizations like SNMMI are looking to expand the treatments to a variety of other cancers.

In her proposal “Improving VLA-4 targeted radio nuclide therapy for metastatic melanoma with 177Lu-labeled albumin-binding LLP2A,” Choi outlined a new method of using radionuclides to treat metastatic melanoma and a new imaging strategy to better determine how patients are responding to the therapy.

“Metastatic melanoma is a highly challenging disease to treat, and treatment approaches are very limited,” said Choi. “The five-year survival rate for patients is only 15-20 percent. I think my proposal was chosen because of the critical need to improve therapies and increase the overall survival of patients with metastatic melanoma.”

At the University of Pittsburgh, Choi studies radionuclide therapies and diagnostics for the treatment of human diseases under the supervision of Carolyn Anderson, co-director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute In Vivo Imaging Facility. Dr. Anderson is also a professor of radiology with a secondary appointment in the Swanson School of Engineering Department of Bioengineering.

Choi’s research focuses on developing novel molecular imaging probes using radionuclides to target specific immune cells, which can be used to diagnose human inflammatory diseases such as tuberculosis. She is also working on a project developing novel targeted radionuclide therapeutics for the treatment of different types of cancers. 

“The bioengineering program at Pitt has given me great opportunities to incorporate different approaches to research from multiple engineering fields including tissue engineering, biomaterials and medical imaging,” said Choi. “I think technology is improving by becoming more multidisciplinary, and Dr. Anderson has really helped me take advantage of the University’s resources while designing and executing my research projects.”

The SNMMI awards the Pre-doctoral Molecular Imaging Scholar Program grant to only one recipient every two years. The research scholar must be working in an established molecular imaging lab and must be a full-time student working toward a PhD or MD in an educational institution during the award period. The objective of the grant is “to encourage the integration of imaging approaches in the research of molecular pathways of disease.”

Choi began studying at the University of Pittsburgh in 2015 and is on track to receive her PhD in 2019. She would like to continue her study in radiopharmaceutical science and work in a faculty position at a research institution after graduation.


Author: Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer

Contact: Paul Kovach