Researcher Profile: Balazs Halmos

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Balazs Halmos, MD, Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, and his colleagues have been awarded a research grant from LUNGevity Foundation to study ways to increase the effectiveness of radiation and chemotherapy in treating non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) that could potentially also lead to developing biomarkers for personalized NSCLC treatments. 

Dr. Halmos is collaborating on this project with Simon Cheng, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology at Columbia University Medical Center, and Haiying Cheng, MD, Assistant Professor of Medical Oncology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Chemotherapy and radiation kill cancer cells by attacking their DNA. However cells have natural repair mechanisms for fixing DNA damage and many tumors rely on these mechanisms to heal the damage and continue growing. In previous studies, Dr. Halmos found combining inhibitors to block two major mechanisms of DNA repair in NSCLC cells resulted in increasing the effectiveness of cisplatin, a chemotherapeutic agent. 

Continuing this work, Dr. Halmos is testing whether this combination of inhibitors will help chemotherapy and radiation work better together. In addition, he is testing whether tumor cells with inherently lower levels of activity in these two DNA repair mechanisms are more responsive to chemoradiation treatment.

“This work will help us figure out which lung cancer patients are likely to benefit from this type of treatment,” says Dr. Halmos.

He continues his search for other proteins and pathways that could play a role in allowing tumors to circumvent chemoradiation.  Already Dr. Halmos has identified and begun to study another protein pathway that seems to encourage cancer cells to survive treatment.  Through this work, he is aiming to find pathways in tumor cells that can be used as targets for treatment, predictors of treatment outcomes, and tools for understanding the mechanisms of drug resistance.

Once this project is completed, it has the potential to improve outcomes for NSCLC patients being treated with chemoradiation. In addition, this work could broaden our understanding of tumor growth, identify new biomarkers to predict treatment results, and unveil novel pathways of drug resistance that could open the door to new treatment options.