Ivy Brain Tumor Center fights to end deadly brain cancer

In the heart of Phoenix, a team of doctors is vigilantly working to find a cure for Glioblastoma (GBM), the deadliest form of brain cancer.

Last year, Barrow Neurological Institute received $50 million – the largest grant in the history of brain tumor research – from the Ben and Catherine Ivy Foundation to open the Ivy Brain Tumor Center.

I lost my husband 13 years ago, a very healthy vibrant person who survived four months upon [his GBM] diagnosis. His only symptom was a numb thumb and some lost control of his tongue,” Catherine Ivy said. “[The foundation] decided, with the help of my board, to go on a global search of placing a big bet to try and do something for the patients with this disease. We literally went around the world and it was very exciting to find that our best investment [was] in my backyard here at Barrow.”

The Ivy Brain Tumor Center is currently performing their version of a “Phase 0” trial, which means the center is not subscribing to conventional medicine and provides its patients with accelerated drug discovery through clinical trials.

All patients, regardless of diagnosis or the state of their tumor, will have individualized options for experimental therapy.

Patients from around the world with GBM travel to the center because they know the center will provide them with answers about whether or not a drug is working quicker than other centers, Nadar Sanai, director of neurosurgical oncology at the center, said.

“If you’re dealing with this disease, you really are seeing time slip between your fingers,” Sanai said. “You need hope, you need new drugs, we know our patients demand that.”

According to the center, more than 138,000 patients in the United States are struggling against malignant brain tumors and by the end of the year, another 256,000 will be diagnosed. In the case of GBM, nine out of ten patients will lose control of the disease within five years.

“What’s happening right here in Arizona is just amazing,” Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ) said while touring the center. “Senator [John] McCain suffered from Glioblastoma and so it’s very personal to us in Arizona. The fact that you’re here and every single day your team is making such an incredible difference…. I’m extremely inspired by your work.”

“Ivy Brain [Tumor] Center’s innovation is improving treatment for brain tumors. [I’m]proud to support their one of a kind research,” Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) tweeted after a tour of the facility.

The center is now a cornerstone at Barrow and is part of Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center. The Ivy Foundation is the second largest funder in brain tumor research after the U.S. federal government.

“It’s really about adding the fuel to enable innovation,” Sanai said. “We hope that the government will take a page from the Ivy Foundation’s playbook and pursue more high risk, high reward type projects…so that these funds can get released in a more directed way to what we call translational research [or]  research that’s enabling new drugs to get into patients quickly.”

Emily Richardson

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