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Nationally Recognized Radiologist and Nuclear Medicine Expert Joins Hoag Family Cancer Institute to Bring Molecular Imaging and Therapy to Orange County

Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian is building upon its personalized, science-based approach to cancer care with the launch of its Molecular Imaging and Therapy Program, led by nationally recognized expert Gary A. Ulaner, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Ulaner, who is dual board-certified in radiology and nuclear medicine, recently joined Hoag Family Cancer Institute from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center where he served as the PET/CT expert on the Breast Cancer and Myeloma Disease Management Teams. He is bringing with him multiple innovative clinical trials, some of which are federally-funded by the National Institutes of Health, that use molecular imaging to detect cancer at a cellular level, well before traditional imaging. Using molecular imaging to target cancer cells, Dr. Ulaner will also be conducting trials to evaluate the efficacy of targeted radiation therapy (“liquid radiation”) to then treat cancer.

“There have been tremendous recent advancements in cancer therapies which ‘target’ a specific molecule on the cancer cell,” Dr. Ulaner said. “I am so happy to help bring these advanced trials to Orange County, and specifically, the Hoag community. Hoag’s Molecular Imaging and Therapy Program is helping to pioneer the most sensitive imaging methods to date to advance research and more superiorly treat Hoag cancer patients.”

Molecular imaging uses radiotracers, a kind of tumor-specific dye that “lights up” in a positron emission tomography-computerized tomography (PET/CT) scan. This allows physicians to find a cancer cell’s exact location and determine the best course of treatment for that specific cancer. Molecular imaging is also used to monitor a cancer treatment’s effectiveness.

“One of the advantages of molecular imaging is that it can direct oncologists to the precise location of a cancer, rather than guessing where it might be,” Dr. Ulaner said. “These technologies also show promise in helping us to evaluate a patient’s immune cells to determine who will respond best to immunotherapy.”

Hoag Family Cancer Institute is a leader in cancer therapy in Orange County, bringing innovative treatments and programs to patients–including Hoag’s Precision Medicine Program, Cell Therapy Program for solid tumors, and some of the most advanced surgical techniques and radiation therapy available in the United States, including the recent addition of the ViewRay MRIdian™ linear accelerator. “By formalizing a program around Molecular Imaging and Therapy, Hoag continues to underscores its commitment to truly personalized cancer therapy,” said Burton L. Eisenberg, M.D., F.A.C.S., executive medical director of Hoag Family Cancer Institute and the Grace E. Hoag Executive Medical Director Endowed Chair.

“Hoag Family Cancer Institute is at the forefront of cancer innovation, providing our patients with access to clinical trials and the most advanced prevention, early detection and treatment programs available. We are excited to welcome Dr. Ulaner to further bolster our commitment to the patients we serve,” said Dr. Eisenberg. “We are particularly impressed with Dr. Ulaner’s goal of expanding Hoag’s clinical trial offerings and training the next generation of cancer innovators.”

Thanks to philanthropic support, Hoag is currently studying the use of molecular imaging in breast cancer using a new molecular imaging agent for the detection of estrogen receptor-positive lesions in patients with recurrent or metastatic breast cancer. Hoag is the first in the nation to use this FES imaging agent in a clinical trial for staging of breast cancer, and the first in Southern California to offer the agent to sensitively detect breast cancer.

“Zionexa is pleased to collaborate with Hoag Family Cancer Institute to further research for recurrent and metastatic breast cancer,” said Peter Webner, CEO of Zionexa US Corp. “Through Zionexa’s breast cancer PET imaging biomarker, Dr. Ulaner and Hoag will offer the most advanced imaging available to Orange County patients, leading to more targeted treatment decisions,” added Webner.

Hoag also has a clinical trial available for patients who are newly diagnosed with prostate cancer, but at a high risk of metastatic disease. Traditional CT and bone scans can often miss prostate disease. In this trial, Dr. Ulaner will evaluate the use of molecular imaging to more highly detect disease in the body, which will lead to more targeted, effective treatment.

On the horizon for Hoag is a Phase 2, NIH-funded trial that uses molecular imaging to sensitively detect myeloma tumors. Hoag will be the first in the world to offer this trial, which uses molecular imaging to help direct myeloma therapy.

Dr. Ulaner completed his medical degree and a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology at Stanford University School of Medicine, an internship at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and his Radiology and Nuclear Medicine residencies at the University of Southern California. He was elected a Fellow of the American College of Nuclear Medicine, received an award for breast cancer research from the Susan Komen Foundation, and was the first Hal O’Brien Rising Star from the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI).

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