being—your senses, personality, emotions,
thought, reasoning and coordination,” says
Mrs. Robinson, currently coordinating
patients for a brain cancer vaccine clinical
trial at UAB. “Because of the nature of the
disease and how debilitating it is, we need
to allocate appropriate resources to research.
It’s through research that we will eventu-
ally have better treatment options and more
resources available to our patients, and hope-
fully a cure.”
SHARP FOCUS At UAB, Cancer Center senior scientists
G. Yancey Gillespie, Ph.D., and James M.
Markert, M.D., M.P.H., will co-lead the pro-
gram to study contemporary therapeutics for
anaplastic gliomas, the most deadly and most
common form of malignant brain tumors.
The award also includes $200,000 from the
National Institutes of Neurological Disorders
and Stroke to accelerate the initiation of two
new clinical trials in the first year.
“Brain cancer poses a unique challenge
to cancer research and neuroscience, and its
study demands a unique research environ-
ment—one that recognizes the special nature
of the central nervous system and the tumors
that develop there,” Dr. Gillespie says.
The Cancer Center is one of an elite
group of National Cancer Institute-
designated comprehensive cancer centers in
the United States with four SPORE pro-
grams: grants for brain, breast and pancre-
atic cancers, as well as a shared grant with
Johns Hopkins for cervical cancer.
“This new funding will enable us to gain
additional insights into this devastating dis-
ease and rapidly advance novel therapeutics
developed in UAB laboratories into clinical
trials,” says Dr. Gillespie. “We have more
than 15 laboratories at UAB that are devot-
ed to studying brain tumors. Research work
runs the gamut from basic studies attempt-
ing to explain how brain tumors grow and
invade to applied studies attempting to
capitalize on our knowledge to design novel,
THE SCIENCE OF SURVIVAL One of the primary objectives of the
grant is to develop and test a genetically
engineered herpes simplex virus—commonly
known as the cold-sore virus—to infect and
kill brain tumor cells while sparing normal
brain cells. UAB researchers hope to estab-
lish the safety and high quality of the virus
preparation for the “first-in-man” clinical
study. Another project tests the ability of
a UAB-produced monoclonal antibody to
bind to human brain-tumor cells and cause
cell death. UAB already has conducted two
clinical trials with this monoclonal antibody
in patients with other types of cancer.
Other pilot projects include a clini-
cal trial to test a small-molecule inhibitor
of a critical enzyme that is overactive in
brain tumors. Scientists also are working to
repurpose a proven malaria drug for use in
patients with anaplastic gliomas.
A research team of 14 investigators from
seven departments at UAB will comprise the
interactive multidisciplinary research team.
Five core facilities will provide administra-
tive assistance, maintain a patient clinical
specimen repository to allow direct studies
on tumor tissues, design and conduct clinical
trials, provide biostatistical and bioinformat-
ic support and conduct preclinical studies
of new therapies in animal models of brain
tumors to ensure they are safe and effective
for human studies.
“Although there’s been progress, it’s been
slow—but that’s the reality of research,”
Mrs. Robinson says. “For me, knowing that
somebody cares enough to put the time,
effort and dedication into making a dif-
ference means the world. We all want the
answer for our patients and our families.
I know this SPORE grant may not help
us today, but it will help us in the future.
Research leads to further understanding of
the disease, propelling us to new directions,
and to me, that offers hope.”
U A B C O M P R E H E N S I V E C A N C E R C E N T E R 11
“Brain cancer poses a unique challenge to cancer research and neuro-
science, and its study demands a unique research environment—one
that recognizes the special nature of the central nervous system and
the tumors that develop there.” – Yancey Gillespie, Ph.D.
Web Extra: Learn more about Cathie Robinson, who started the Brain Buddies support group at UAB in 2006, from our Life Stories video on brain tumors at uab.edu/cancer.