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Research Fellow Wins Prestigious Award

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Lei Shi, M.D., Ph.D., a research fellow at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, has received the Marie Curie Award from the Radiation Research Society. The award honors a scholar-in-training showing the highest potential for a successful career in the areas of radiation, biology, chemistry, physics or medicine.

As the winner, Shi will present the annual Marie Curie Award lecture at the 58th annual meeting of the Radiation Research Society in Philadelphia in November and will receive a cash award and travel expenses.

Shi’s lecture will focus on his work in the laboratory of Judy Brunso-Bechtold, Ph.D., in the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, where scientists are working to learn more about radiation-induced brain injury. Whole-brain radiation is widely used for recurrent brain tumors as well as to prevent the metastasis of breast cancer, lung cancer and malignant melanoma to the brain.

However, the treatment can have deleterious side effects, including memory problems and other cognitive deficits that are progressive. Many patients treated with whole-brain radiation who survive a year or longer develop cognitive impairments.

Researchers don’t know precisely why radiation therapy results in brain injury, but suspect it causes changes in the brain’s communication system. To test this theory, Shi and other researchers evaluated rats that had been treated with radiation and developed learning and memory impairments.

They found changes in synapses, the basic units of communication in the brain, that may contribute to the cognitive impairments following whole-brain radiation. This was the first report of alterations in synapses in a study of cognitive impairment induced by whole-brain radiation.

These findings are significant because they may lay the groundwork for developing new therapies to prevent or reverse these potentially devastating impairments induced by whole-brain irradiation.

The research is supported by a recently funded grant from National Institutes of Health and is part of a broad collaboration among researchers led by Michael Robbins, Ph.D., in the Department of Radiation Oncology.

Shi grew up in Beijing, China, and received his M.D. degree from Beijing Medical University and his Ph.D. degree from Wake Forest University.

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Media Contacts: Karen Richardson, krchrdsn@wfubmc.edu, or Shannon Koontz, shkoontz@wfubmc.edu, 336-716-4587.

Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university’s School of Medicine. U.S. News & World Report ranks Wake Forest University School of Medicine 18th in family medicine, 20th in geriatrics, 25th in primary care and 41st in research among the nation's medical schools. It ranks 32nd in research funding by the National Institutes of Health. Almost 150 members of the medical school faculty are listed in Best Doctors in America.

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