A New State-of-the-Art Brain Tumor Center at UIC
There is nothing scarier than being told you have a brain tumor. Unfortunately, brain tumors are common and affect people of all ages. Brain tumors can be either primary (originating in the brain) or metastatic (spreading to the brain from other organs). Primary brain tumors are the most common solid tumors of childhood and the incidence of metastatic brain tumors continues to increase as better treatments for systemic cancer are found. Surgery and radiotherapy continue to play important roles in brain tumor treatment. However, these modalities are themselves not curative. Using drugs to treat cancer in the brain is challenging for a number of reasons. First, the brain is an exquisitely sensitive organ and drugs that kill tumor cells are often harmful to the normal brain. Second, the delivery of drugs to the brain—even if they are safe and effective—is hampered by the blood brain barrier, a complex system that tightly regulates entry of substances from the bloodstream into the brain. Despite, or perhaps, because of these challenges, novel approaches to brain tumor treatment is an active part of basic, translational, and clinical neuro-oncology.
(Dr. Nicholas ,Christina Gomez, Dr. Slavin, Dr. Koshy)
The Department of Neurology and Rehabilitation has undergone a major expansion of its clinical and research programs on brain tumors with the recruitment of, M. Kelly Nicholas, MD, PhD, a nationally regarded neuro-oncologist who recently joined the UIC faculty. He and his long-time colleague Jean Arzbaecher RN, MS bring an unmatched mix of expertise and compassion to the UI Health Brain Tumor Center. Dr. Nicholas, who is an expert in immunology, cancer biology, and clinical trials states “UIC is a place where in-depth collaborative brain tumor research focuses on individual patients.”
His vision is now being fulfilled as the first brain tumor immunotherapy trial—coordinated through the UI NeuroRepository—takes shape. Dr. Nicholas has studied brain: Immune system interactions for many years and the development of checkpoint inhibitors offers a new opportunity to use immunotherapy to treat brain tumors. “Checkpoint inhibitors are highly effective in turning the immune system against tumors elsewhere in the body and “the time has come to test this in the brain,” he says.
(Sarah, Dr. Nicholas, Dr. Loeb, Dr. Nagy, Dr. Gayatri)
The study will use tumor tissue, taken at the time of surgery, to answer questions about the determinants of response to treatment. Nicholas notes, “many times, whether new brain tumor treatments succeed or fail, we don’t understand the reasons. In-depth analysis of individual patients’ responses, afforded by the resources of the NeuroRepository, may go a long way in closing these gaps in our understanding.”
Dr. Nicholas also notes that brain tumor patients are best served in a multi-disciplinary setting; one where a variety of specialists interact closely around each case. Clinical members of the Brain Tumor Center at UI Health include neurosurgeons, medical and radiation oncologists, neurologists, and neuro-psychologists. Specialists in pathology and radiology are indispensable team members. Because a diagnosis of brain cancer affects patients and their families at many levels, UI Health also offers an expert team of social workers and sponsors one of the nation’s largest brain tumor support groups. This team of experts meets weekly to review all cases and thus assure optimal multi-disciplinary care.
UIC Brain Tumor researchers now exceeds twenty investigators all focused on improving the lives of patients with brain tumor. The entirely novel approach taken in collaboration with the UI NeuroRepository has played a major role in enhancing collaborative brain tumor research. Clinical trials in brain tumor treatment are offered through collaboration with the UI Health Cancer Center. The efforts and initiatives described above allow fruitful collaboration across a variety of disciplines and assure outstanding patient care in an environment that encourages innovation and improved outcomes.