Experts from several scientific fields join forces to accelerate fight against brain cancer
These are some of the experts from different fields who make up the Brain Tumor Research Group. From left are: (front row) Ed Rice, Lawrence Chin, MD, Mariano Viapiano, PhD, and Russell “Rick” Matthews, PhD; (second row) Robert Corona Jr., DO, and Charles Danko, PhD; (third row) Malvina Prapa, PhD, Sharon Longo and Nandhu Mohan Sobhana, PhD; (fourth row) Prajna Behera, Lina Barrera Arenas, Ashis Sinha and Geoffrey Eill. Rice and Danko are from Cornell University, while the rest are from Upstate Medical University. (PHOTO BY ROBERT MESCAVAGE)
When a neurosurgeon such as Grahame Gould, MD, above, removes a brain tumor from a patient, a tiny sample is removed for study and testing. As more and more tumors are tracked, it is hoped that doctors and researchers will one day be able to predict the likely progress and outcome of a patient’s cancer. (PHOTO BY DEBBIE REXINE)
Tumor tissue is invaluable to the study of brain cancer. Upstate is fortunate to have a unique resource, a bank of thousands of tiny vials of frozen cancer tissue samples dating back more than 25 years. These samples, taken from both adults and children, can be used for current and future research. Above, research assistant professor Nandhu Mohan Sobhana, PhD, examines a tray of this preserved tissue – stored in vials about the size of a small pencil. (PHOTO BY ROBERT MESCAVAGE)
Frozen samples of brain cancer tumors can be carefully thawed, put in a nourishing medium and placed in a body-temperature incubator to bring them back to life. Above, research specialist Sharon Longo holds a flask in which the cells are placed for this nurturing process. Researchers can study to see, for example, whether the cells will grow a new tumor or how they might react to various chemicals. In addition to frozen tissue, fresh tumor cells can also be studied. (PHOTO BY ROBERT MESCAVAGE)
Biological assays, or bioassays, are tests of the effectiveness of a chemical or drug to fight cancer or other diseases by using tissue samples, plants or animals, such as lab mice. Above, from left, research fellow Lina Barrera Arenas and senior research support specialist Prajna Behera work on some samples. (PHOTO BY ROBERT MESCAVAGE)
In molecular profiling, a particular patient’s cells are studied for their unique biomarkers, or indicators of the presence or severity of disease. This profiling holds the promise of improving current methods of cancer diagnosis and treatment. Above, postdoctoral research fellow Malvina Prapa, PhD, examines slides of brain cancer cells on a computer screen. (PHOTO BY ROBERT MESCAVAGE)
A goal of the program is to bring together various specialists to find better treatments for cancer. Neuroscientists, such as research fellow Lina Barrera Arenas, above, will work with surgeons, oncologists and others to advance the understanding of the disease. (PHOTO BY ROBERT MESCAVAGE)
Uniting the best brainpower available in a spirit of collaboration is the driving principle behind this project. Above are some of the project leaders, from left, Russell “Rick” Matthews, PhD, Lawrence Chin, MD, Charles Danko, PhD, Mariano Viapiano, PhD, and Robert Corona Jr., DO. Matthews, Danko and Viapiano direct research labs, Chin is a neurosurgeon, and Corona directs the pathology department at Upstate. (PHOTO BY ROBERT MESCAVAGE)
BY JIM HOWE
To better meet the challenges of treating brain cancer, Upstate’s Precision Neuro-Oncology Program pools the expertise of the best minds in a variety of scientific fields.
The newly formed Brain Tumor Research Group involves neurosurgeons, pathologists and neuroscientists from Upstate Medical University and biomedical scientists from Cornell University to analyze and test brain tumors with the goal of increasing the number of available brain cancer treatments.
Working as a multidisciplinary team, the experts store tumor samples in a unique tumor bank, perform molecular profiling and biological assays and work toward predicting the progression of brain cancer and its outcome. In addition, the group works to develop clinical trials that could lead to new cancer treatments and possibly to applications for other diseases as well.
This team draws on a special resource — Upstate’s brain tumor cell bank, which has been maintained by the department of neurosurgery for more than 25 years to support its research. Hundreds of tissue samples from brain tumors are carefully stored in a deep freeze at the Neuroscience Research Building. These samples can be thawed, cultured and studied to help understand how tumors behave.
The spirit of collaboration behind this project has already been established. One of Upstate’s newest faculty members, Mariano Viapiano, PhD, came from Harvard University to continue working with Upstate faculty members he had long associated with, including neuroscience professor Russell “Rick” Matthews, PhD, and pathologist Robert Corona Jr., DO, and now neurosurgeon Lawrence Chin, MD.
This collaboration integrates the work done at Upstate’s Neuroscience Research Building with that taking place in the Central New York Biotechnology Accelerator, the Cancer Center, the Cord Blood Bank and Molecular Genetics Laboratory and the laboratory of Charles Danko, PhD, at Cornell University’s Baker Institute.
Working together, neurosurgeons can become involved in basic science, neuroscience researchers can pursue topics in oncology, and pathologists can help develop molecular diagnostics.
The aim is to create new brain cancer treatments derived from the intensive research and analysis of the tumor samples. The program hopes to become a national reference institution for precision diagnostics and personalized treatment of brain cancer.
This article appears in the spring 2017 issue of Cancer Care magazine.