Led by Antonio Iavarone, M.D., director, Sylvester Brain Tumor Institute leadership includes (left to right) Macarena de la Fuente, M.D., Anna Lasorella, M.D., and Ricardo Komotar, M.D.

The Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine has announced the establishment of the Sylvester Brain Tumor Institute (SBTI), which will focus on personalized medicine approaches for treating patients with brain tumors.

“The institute will allow us to have a critical mass of clinicians, surgeons, translational scientists and basic scientists working together toward a goal of generating treatments that are tailored to each individual patient at Sylvester,” said the new institute director Antonio Iavarone. “This is a complex and ambitious goal. You need multiple people with complementary expertise working together—this is what has driven the creation of the SBTI.”

Anna Lasorella, co-director of basic and translational research at the SBTI told Inside Precision Medicine that the organization “will have the capability to examine an individual’s brain tumor on a molecular and genetic level, then test multiple treatments in the lab and devise a targeted treatment specific for the tumor and the patient. We will be able to do this in real time and respond effectively to treat the patient when treatment is needed.”

The institute will focus on hard-to-treat brain tumors, especially glioblastoma, which affects around 12,000 Americans each year. The disease is almost always fatal, with an average survival time of just 12 to 18 months after diagnosis, and five-year survival rate of around seven percent. “This tumor is a real unmet medical need,” said Lasorella.

A team led by surgical director Ricardo Komotar will use biopsied brain tumor tissue to create patient-derived organoids, miniature tumors grown in the lab from the biopsied cancer cells, and patient-derived xenografts, where tumor cells are re-grown in the laboratory and studied in pre-clinical models.

This approach will allow the researchers to not only study brain tumor biology in detail, but also test different drugs on the patients’ tumors in vitro. Ultimately, they hope to offer patients precision treatments based directly on these studies; in the short term, the work will inform treatment recommendations using already-approved drugs and in the longer term will lead to clinical trials for newly discovered treatments.

Although Sylvester investigators have already been using patient-derived organoids and xenografts, the formation of the SBTI means that those efforts can be scaled up.

“Because each patient is so different, we really need to have patient-derived material for all our molecular studies and all of the translational work that is carried out in the lab,” Lasorella said.

Other research will include studying how glioblastoma evolves when it recurs after treatment. By understanding how the brain tumors change and develop treatment resistance, the researchers will be able to develop new treatments that prevent the cancers from recurring in the first place.

Investigators will also be working to identify biomarkers to predict treatment response, which could lead to more rapid development of personalized care for brain cancer.

“Our goal for the past decade has been to establish an institute and center of excellence for brain tumors in South Florida to bring the best possible care to brain cancer patients,” Komotar said. “It’s incredibly satisfying to see it come to fruition.”

In the long-term, the researchers want “to ensure that brain cancer will no longer be a death sentence,” said Lasorella. “We want patients to have longer, better quality lives than they have with current therapies.”

She added that the SBTI aims to compete for top level national grant funding, publish research in top journals, and launch innovative personalized clinical trials directly emerging from the study findings. The institute also hopes to expand to address brain tumors in children, which pose a serious risk of death and impaired cognitive and psychological functions.

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