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,

nontoxic treatments.” 

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.”

research update

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.