Molecular biology: the key to personalised treatment in radiation oncology?

D G Hirst, T Robson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)
196 Downloads (Pure)


We know considerably more about what makes cells and tissues resistant or sensitive to radiation than we did 20 years ago. Novel techniques in molecular biology have made a major contribution to our understanding at the level of signalling pathways. Before the “New Biology” era, radioresponsiveness was defined in terms of physiological parameters designated as the five Rs. These are: repair, repopulation, reassortment, reoxygenation and radiosensitivity. Of these, only the role of hypoxia proved to be a robust predictive and prognostic marker, but radiotherapy regimens were nonetheless modified in terms of dose per fraction, fraction size and overall time, in ways that persist in clinical practice today. The first molecular techniques were applied to radiobiology about two decades ago and soon revealed the existence of genes/proteins that respond to and influence the cellular outcome of irradiation. The subsequent development of screening techniques using microarray technology has since revealed that a very large number of genes fall into this category. We can now obtain an adequately robust molecular signature, predicting for a radioresponsive phenotype using gene expression and proteomic approaches. In parallel with these developments, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) can now detect specific biological molecules such as haemoglobin and glucose, so revealing a 3D map of tumour blood flow and metabolism. The key to personalised radiotherapy will be to extend this capability to the proteins of the molecular signature that determine radiosensitivity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)723-728
Number of pages6
JournalBritish Journal of Radiology
Issue number993
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging

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