My research interests include clinical trials for brain tumor patients, advanced brain tumor imaging, the epidemiology of primary brain tumors and quality of life studies in brain tumor patients. I maintain that patients with these illnesses are best served by seeking state-of-the-art interdisciplinary care, as early as possible in their course of treatment, at an academic medical center. I believe that VCU and MCC provide the very best quality patient care, research and teaching in neuro-oncology, and I am honored to be a vital member of this team.
Forty per cent of my time and effort is protected to do neuro-oncology research. During the course of my career I have been the institutional PI on 23 clinical trials. My role in this research effort is to open a wide range of brain tumor trials at MCC, (investigator-initiated, NCI cooperative group and pharma-sponsored), and to recruit as many subjects as possible to these trials. The goal is to have at least one clinical trial available for the most common brain tumor scenarios (newly diagnosed and recurrent glioblastoma, other malignant glioma, low grade glioma, primary CNS lymphoma, and brain metastases). I have been a member of the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group (RTOG) since 2004 (now NRG), and have participated in those meetings on a regular basis. I am a member of the Neurosurgical Subcommittee and of the Brain Tumor Steering Committee of the NRG. I have also participated in the Brain Tumor Translational Research Group meetings at the RTOG. As “the face of neuro-oncology” at MCC, I will continue to contribute to these discussions at the NRG meetings. At MCC, I will be assisted by (and will mentor the careers of) my fellowship-trained neuro-oncologist colleagues, Dr. Zhi-Jian Chen (recruited August 1, 2015) and Dr. Alicia Zukas (to begin August 1, 2016), both Assistant Professors in the Department of Neurology.
I was a founding member and clinical research director of the Translational Brain Tumor Research Program at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW). There, I worked closely with the Principal Investigators (PIs) of that program, Drs. Kathleen Schmainda (Departments of Radiology and Biophysics) and Wade Mueller (Department of Neurosurgery), in the context of both patient care and translational research. Being primarily responsible for subject recruitment, I met weekly with Dr. Schmainda’s research group to review advanced imaging cases. It was at this meeting that the most relevant research questions were raised and new discoveries made. The productive collaboration between these investigators is evidenced by the many recent co-authored publications and awards using advanced imaging techniques for the evaluation of brain tumor patients. Given my lengthy clinical care and research experience, I was well suited for my role on this study to recruit patients and guide the role of advanced imaging technology developments to advance patient care and treatments. Also while at MCW, I worked closely with the PI of another grant proposal, Dr. Shama Mirza (Department of Biochemistry), in the context of translational research. Dr. Mirza is an expert in mass spectrometry, and has used this technology to develop numerous novel approaches to the quantitative analysis of biological samples, including captured DNA protein complexes. I met regularly with Dr. Mirza to review the correlation between clinical, imaging and proteomic data of glioblastoma (GBM) samples. The experiments performed were designed to identify a priori the response, or lack thereof, to antiangiogenesis therapy in patients with recurrent GBM, and so personalize their care. The results offer prognostic and predictive information on a case-by-case basis. Spinoffs from this research include the identification of unique tumor-associated proteins (biomarkers) that shed light on fundamental mechanisms of GBM oncogenesis, growth, invasiveness and drug resistance. These discoveries, in turn, enable rational drug design and subsequent clinical trials.
An essential component of the creation of the Neuro-oncology Program at VCU and MCC has been the recruitment of a neuropsychologist, Dr. Ashlee Loughan (Department of Neurology), whose research interest is the evaluation, understanding and treatment of the cognitive consequences of cancer and cancer therapy in patients referred to the MCC. My role in this project will include the facilitation and supervision of Dr. Loughan’s research, and to be a mentor to her.