Many exciting discoveries are being made that are providing new insights into how molecules, cells and tissues respond to ionizing radiation. There remains a need, however, to translate these findings into more effective treatments for cancer patients, including those treated with radiation therapy. This complex task will require the collaboration of scientists studying molecular, cellular and tissue responses, and those performing clinical trials of emerging therapies. The Radiation Research Program of the National Cancer Institute sponsored a workshop entitled "Molecular Biology to Radiation Oncology: A Model for Translational Research?" to bring together basic scientists and clinicians to exchange ideas and fundamental concepts and to identify opportunities for future research and collaboration. Four broad topics were addressed: signal transduction and apoptosis, the cell cycle, repair of radiation damage, and the microenvironment. The development, selection and use of appropriate experimental models is crucial to finding and developing new therapies, and opportunities exist in this area as well. This paper and the accompanying paper by Coleman and Harris that provides the viewpoint of radiation oncologists (Radiat. Res. 150, 134-147, 1998) summarize the background concepts and opportunities for translational research identified by the workshop participants.

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