Seattle's unique biotech landscape puts it in position to make a life-changing discovery for those who battle and have battled brain cancer, writes guest columnist Greg Foltz.
BEFORE U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy and columnist Robert Novak were diagnosed with malignant brain tumors in 2008, few knew of the disease’s deadly nature. The sad truth is this: Of the 22,000 Americans — 1,000 from Washington — diagnosed with terminal brain cancer each year, most have just one to two years to live.
In an age where science seems to do the unimaginable, the Food and Drug Administration has approved only three new brain-cancer treatments in the past 25 years. It remains the single most malignant form of cancer known to humankind — rapidly progressive and uniformly fatal.
The loss of these great public servants reminds us, yet again, that finding a cure for brain cancer is not an option, it’s a necessity. By working together, Seattle researchers are uniquely positioned to make significant scientific advances that could impact care and treatment possibilities for patients with brain cancer.
The Puget Sound region is home to some of today’s most dynamic researchers and institutions, which are transforming the way we look at the human body and medicine. The Institute for Systems Biology, the Allen Institute for Brain Science, Accium Biosciences, the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and countless other innovative institutions, with initiatives ranging from cancer immunotherapy to advanced molecular diagnostics, have their roots in the Pacific Northwest.
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Last October, the Swedish Neuroscience Institute officially unveiled the region’s first community-based center that focuses exclusively on finding a cure for brain cancer. The Center for Advanced Brain Tumor Treatment (CABTT) is a unique facility that places patients and scientists across the hall from one another as they work toward discovering new treatment options for this lethal disease.
Every day, we see patients benefiting from the extraordinary research happening in Seattle. Working with the Institute for Systems Biology, we are able to use advanced gene-sequencing to determine personalized treatment plans for brain-cancer patients, eliminating the “hit or miss” strategy of the past. Each day, the scientists at the center reference the Allen Brain Atlas as they determine which genes are stimulating tumor growth. Accium BioSciences is now federally funded to study the DNA extracted from brain tumors to determine if the medicine we are prescribing is actually working as expected. The progress truly is collaborative.
The Swedish Neuroscience Institute and Providence Regional Medical Center Everett have partnered to conduct weekly brain tumor board meetings to discuss treatment plans for brain-cancer patients in the northern part of our state. The hospitals are working toward sharing tissue samples to ensure patients in Snohomish County are also offered personalized care and the beneficial results of genetic analysis.
By expanding the pool of tissue samples, CABTT and the Institute for Systems Biology have established the region’s most comprehensive brain tumor tissue bank. These partnerships are unprecedented, making CABTT a facility like no other in the world. By bringing the best minds in the region together and providing patients direct access to emerging technologies, we have an opportunity to lengthen their survival. We can now improve their day-to-day quality of life by reassuring them that they are receiving the best possible care, right here, in their own community.
It is my belief that with Seattle’s unique biotech landscape, we are primed to make a life-changing discovery for those who battle and have battled brain cancer. If we follow in Sen. Kennedy’s footsteps by working collaboratively and not taking “no” for an answer, we will find a cure for brain cancer.
Dr. Greg Foltz is co-director of the Center for Advanced Brain Tumor Treatment at the Swedish Neuroscience Institute in Seattle.