Brain cancer experts at UAB have been selected for membership in the Ivy Genomics-Based Medicine Project, a national consortium of nine cutting-edge hospitals and academic centers working to improve treatment and survival for patients with a malignant brain tumor known as glioma.

UAB is the only research site in the Southeast, and it is one of four members with its own National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center and a Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) in brain cancer.

“This project is a huge honor for us, and it shows we’ve kept pace and excelled in collaborative and translational research objectives,” said G. Yancey Gillespie, Ph.D., professor of neurosurgery and principal investigator.

Gliomas are tumors that arise by transformation of the body’s glial cells, which make up 90 percent of the brain and spinal cord and normally work in concert with neurons. The consortium members strive to unravel how genetic differences between gliomas can lead to more effective and even personalized treatments for patients.

The project will categorize tumors using sophisticated molecular profiling and, for the first time, test each brain tumor against a wide spectrum of treatments to match DNA markers with differences in cancer-fighting response.

“Currently, all patients get basically the same treatment without taking into account the genetic profile of their tumor,” said Catherine Ivy, founder of the Ivy Foundation and the driving force behind the genomic project.

“The end goal of this research initiative is to identify how tumors with different genetic features respond to a set of treatment regimens and ultimately, it is hoped, provide physicians with the tools they need to offer brain tumor patients the most effective treatment options,” Ivy said.

During an intensive 18-month research timeline, the nine academic laboratories will screen dozens of anti-cancer drugs in animal models that help predict tumor-fighting response.

Information from those screenings and other genetic profiling will be linked and analyzed through a secure, real-time computer network. The project’s second phase will likely involve human testing of anti-cancer drugs.

Gillespie said the genomic approach has the potential to generate several “firsts” in brain cancer research. “We already are working across disciplines: neuro-oncology, neurosurgery, neuroradiology, neuropathology, pharmacology and biomedical engineering,” he said. “This research promises to have a significant impact on the way we treat this disease in the future.”

The other members of the consortium include Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit; the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota; The Ohio State University in Columbus; The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston; the University of California, San Francisco; Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio; the Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids, Mich.; and the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix.