Raheel Jajja Wins AHPBA Research Fellowship Grant to Study Novel Imaging Probes

March 2018

Raheel Jajja, MD, a PGY-3 general surgery resident on research sabbatical in the laboratory of Lily Yang, MD, PhD, is the recipient of the 2018 Research Fellowship Grant of Americas Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Association (AHPBA). The $30,000 award will fund a study Dr. Jajja will conduct with Dr. Yang, director of Emory's Surgical Oncology Nanomedicine Research Lab.

The Annual AHPBA Research Award is given to residents or fellows who have completed at least two years of post-graduate training in a surgical discipline. Recipients can conduct outcomes, translational, or basic science research, with a particular focus on the liver, pancreas, or biliary tree. Dr. Jajja received the award at the opening session of the AHPBA Annual Meeting in Miami on March 9, 2018. Grant winners traditionally present the results of their research at the annual AHPBA meeting two years later.

In addition to Dr. Yang, Dr. Jajja's clinical mentors include surgical oncologist-scientist David Kooby, MD, and hepato-pancreato-biliary surgeon and researcher Juan Sarmiento, MD, both of whom wrote letters of support for Dr. Jajja's AHPBA grant application.

For the study, Dr. Jajja will evaluate the use of receptor-targeted imaging probes in detecting colon cancer liver metastases in preclinical models. The study is a response to the limitations of traditional imaging for cancer identification, which relies on analysis of blood flow and parenchymal features—functional tissues rather than just structural—to distinguish malignancies from normal tissues, which restricts its ability to detect small tumors.  

"We propose linking truncated peptides to modified near-infrared-dyes to create unique imaging nano-probes," says Dr. Jajja. "We can then use these probes to simultaneously target highly expressed ligands on cell surfaces, primarily EGFR, uPAR, IGFR, and WNT, to promote tumor cell specific imaging. Due to the receptor-mediated internalization of these probes, we expect to observe improved recognition and delivery to small tumor deposits, potentially leading to enhanced imaging sensitivity."

Dr. Yang's laboratory is part of a select group of research programs that constitutes the National Cancer institute's Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer. One of the lab's specialties is using nanoparticles that are as small as antibodies or viruses to create molecular imaging probes and drug-carriers for in vivo delivery, which may help expose and treat cancer in its early stages.

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