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Brain Cancer Research Takes the Lead with Head for the Cure 5K

April 26, 2019

More than 700,000 people in the U.S are living with the diagnosis of a primary brain or central nervous system tumor. For the past seven years, the Head for the Cure Foundation (HFTC) has hosted an annual Central Texas 5K race to raise funds for brain cancer research benefitting local patients. Dr. Morris Groves, neuro-oncologist and director of the Texas Oncology–Austin Brain Tumor Center, presented opening remarks at this year’s race in Austin. On March 31, 1,300 participants and 73 teams raised $117,331 to help advance brain cancer treatments.

Funds raised locally remain in Central Texas, with some proceeds supporting leading-edge clinical trials at the Texas Oncology–Austin Brain Tumor Center.

Dr. Groves shares insights on the future of brain cancer research and the local impact of the HFTC.

Brain cancer remains a daunting challenge in oncology. What are the most promising or hopeful areas of progress in developing better treatment? 

Like many cancers, the most excitement and active research in neuro-oncology is happening around immunoncology – specifically developing treatments that help a person’s immune system fight their own tumor. New drugs are being tested that stimulate or activate a person’s immune system to fight the tumor. Viruses are also being injected into the tumor, which can also work as an immunotherapy. And now, people’s own immune cells are being removed, re-engineered to recognize the tumor, and injected back into their bodies to attack their tumors.

The ability to identify the genetic drivers of brain tumors has improved dramatically over the past few years, and now the specific genetic targets of each person’s tumor are being used to develop new targeted drugs and vaccines.

There are also combinations of these approaches being tested to identify the most effective treatment plans for patients.

What research projects taking place in Austin are you most excited about?

Most recently, we’re working on vaccines targeting important molecular drivers in the tumors, and combining these with drugs to stimulate the immune system. We’re also excited about a trial targeting the metabolic pathways that some brain tumors use to grow. An important nation-wide study testing new drugs in a sequential and rolling fashion should help us move forward to get benefit to patients faster. We currently have three ongoing clinical trials related to brain cancer, and more are opening soon.

Additionally, some up-and-coming exciting trials include combining multiple agents together, as well as new drugs hitting important metabolic targets that the tumor cells use to grow. More than 100 patients in Austin have participated in our various studies.

Many people think of cancer research as something that happens only in large institutions. What’s the role of community-based practices like Texas Oncology and the Austin Brain Tumor Center in helping deliver breakthroughs in brain cancer?

We test new treatments at all levels of their development, including “first-in-man” trials (brand new drugs), as well as drugs and other agents that are further down the development pathway.

Local communities are where many patients receive experimental treatments and where the most “real-world” experience is gained. What matters most is the skill and quality of the people doing the work, and ultimately whether the treatment works or not.”

Why are the HFTC event and organization so important and worthy of support?

HFTC directly supports research to develop and test new treatments in patients with brain tumors. The organization’s sole focus is on brain tumors. So, for patients and families affected by this cancer, it is a great place to get information and support the cause. I have been involved with HFTC from its inception and can comfortably state that its members are genuinely dedicated to its cause.

For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org.