Brain Tumor Research Grant Updates

Two exciting brain tumor research grant updates provided by awardees were received! The first from Dr. Burns who received a SBTF Research Grant Award in 2021 and the second from Eric Chalif, the recipient of a Medical Student Summer Fellowship Grant in partnership with the ABTA in 2022.

Thanks to the SBTF funding of Dr. Burns’ project, he was able to generate preliminary data that lead to submitting an NIH R01 grant application which was scored in the fundable range.  He was also awarded an investigational new drug (IND) approval to study a polyamine blocking drug from this project.  He mentioned that this funding was a critical catalyst that allowed him to undertake an expensive analysis of human glioma extracellular fluid samples which provided insights to find a new target in glioma metabolism.

“Best available management of gliomas include includes surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
Unfortunately fatal recurrence remains inevitable—typically within 2 years. Because tumor cells are widely infiltrative into critical regions of surrounding brain, surgery is never curative. However, it does provide privileged access to the unique biology of the human brain. With support of the American Brain Tumor Association, we utilized the intra-operative window of opportunity to sample chemicals from the live human brain tumor and surrounding brain using a technique called microdialysis. Microdialysis catheters reside in the space outside tumor cells, which provides insights about chemical used and created by the tumor cells over time. To help understand the unique biology of human brain tumors, we performed Microdialysis in different regions of each patient’s tumor and brain adjacent to tumor. We determined that the tumor is enriched for amino acids, which are the building blocks for proteins, as well as a special class of biochemicals called “polyamines.” Polyamines help tumor cells avoid the immune system and the impacts of standard therapy. Based on these human findings and best available preclinical data, we submitted an investigational new drug (IND) application to the FDA to test the impacts of two polyamine blocking drugs used alone or in combination while monitoring results using microdialysis. This study was approved by the FDA and IRB.”

Dr. Burns
Dr. Terrance Burns

The Medical Student Summer Fellowship award (MSSF) was given to Eric Chalif in 2022 and he shared that the clinical work which this fellowship has enabled him to work on resulted in compelling evidence that time to surgery matters for GBM, which had not been previously demonstrated and can impact care for patients. 

“Glioblastoma (GBM) is the most aggressive primary brain tumor, and despite a standard of care for patients that includes maximal safe resection followed by chemotherapy and radiation, the prognosis is still grim. Unfortunately, new classes of medications such as checkpoint inhibitors that have revolutionized treatment for cancer outside of the CNS have so far been unsuccessful in clinical trials for GBM. However, drugs that activate the immune system by other means remain particularly promising candidates for the treatment of GBM due to its marked local and systemic immunosuppression. These mechanisms of immunosuppression are diverse and often redundant, which makes targeting any one agent insufficient to completely overcome the suppressive state. It is likely that combinatorial immunotherapy will be necessary in the development of successful regimens. Immunomodulatory molecules may be key agents in future therapeutic cocktails. Targeting these molecules’ receptors have already shown promise in clinical trials for a variety of solid cancers and in preclinical models of glioblastoma. In this study, we develop a new viral therapy and have validated its function. We are currently testing its utility in a mouse model of GBM. Our findings will enable future studies in targeted immunotherapy, and they signify an exciting step towards the future development and refinement of new therapeutic modalities in human clinical testing.

I envision a career as an academic physician-scientist who balances clinical practice with translational research, each one augmenting the other. The ABTA Jack & Fay Netchin Medical Student Summer Fellowship {funded by the Southeastern Brain Tumor Foundation} has been instrumental in introducing me to such a path by allowing me to engage in pioneering glioblastoma research with other highly motivated individuals. I have learned a variety of new techniques, and have worked on both basic science and clinical brain tumor research during my time in this fellowship. I believe that this work will directly lead to a novel glioblastoma therapy, and I am privileged to be a part of it. Additionally, I am excited to share that the clinical work which this fellowship has enabled me to work on has resulted in compelling evidence that time to surgery matters for glioblastoma, which is a finding that has not been previously demonstrated for GBM and will likely impact care patterns for these patients.”

Eric Chalif

You can read more about the brain tumor research grant funded by the Southeastern Brain Tumor Foundation on our Impact page. The SBTF partners with the American Brain Tumor Association to distribute brain tumor research grant funds to qualified projects at various institutions.

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