Costas Arvanitis, assistant professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University and Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Tech, has received an R37 Method to Extend Research in Time (MERIT) Award (up to $3.5 million) from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). He’s the first MERIT awardee at Georgia Tech.
Created by the NIH in 1986, the MERIT Award is designed to provide longer-term grant support to creative, productive Early Stage Investigators (ESIs). The program aims to provide a stable funding source to investigators whose research skills and productive are deemed “distinctly superior,” and who are likely to continue to perform at a high level. MERIT awardees are nominated by NIH from a large pool of competing award recipients and then endorsed by an institute’s advisory council.
With the MERIT Award, NCI is giving Arvanitis the flexibility to pursue innovative research, as well as additional time to successfully launch his career. After the initial five-year $2.5 million award the Arvanitis team will have the opportunity for an extension of up to two additional years of support based on an expedited NCI review.
“I am thrilled to receive this award," said Arvanitis, a researcher in the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience. "It will not only support my lab but also an exceptional team of investigators that I am privileged to be working with."
Arvanitis and his team will combine novel closed-loop image guidance methods with quantitative assessment of the secretion of cancer soluble biomarkers (such as circulating tumor DNA) in body fluids, to longitudinally assess Focused Ultrasound (FUS) targeted drug delivery and monitor the response to therapy. The proposed work, which will critically advance FUS technology, aims to address critical barriers to the progress of noninvasive delivery of anticancer agents in brain tumors while facilitating the translation of this potentially transformative technology to clinics.
In addition to Arvanitis, the research team includes co-investigator Levent Degertekin (professor in the Woodruff School) who will lead efforts in designing the next generation FUS systems, with two clinical collaborators: Chetan Bettegowda of Johns Hopkins University, a world expert in the rapidly advancing field of liquid biopsy, and Tobey Macdonald, director of the pediatric neuro-oncology program at Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute. The team is complemented by research scientist Anton Bryksin, who will provide technical expertise in gene sequencing as director of the Molecular Evolution Core at Georgia Tech. The project will also utilize other core facilities within the Petit Institute.
This project builds on the K99/R00 award that Arvanitis received in 2014 from NIH and a 2016 seed grant for ultrasound liquid biopsy by the Giglio Family funds. The effort brings together expertise in mechanical and electrical engineering, acoustics, drug delivery, gene sequencing, and cancer therapy to enable more precise, more targeted, and more effective therapies against brain tumors, such as glioblastoma, the most prevalent and most aggressive glioma variant with a median survival of only 15 months.
Arvanitis, who joined Georgia Tech in August 2016, focuses his research on ultrasound biophysics, and his lab’s overarching goal is the discovery of novel therapeutic interventions against human disease and their successful translation to clinics. His lab is particularly active in the field of cancer research, conducting fundamental investigations on ultrasound and microbubble-meditated mass transport in brain tumors, and developing computational tools to support the more rational design of focused-ultrasound-based treatment of brain cancer.