Discovering Hope. Every Day.

Barrow Magazine Spring 2018

Happening Now

Discovering Hope. Every Day.

Ivy Brain Tumor Center at the Barrow Neurological Institute

The numbers are somber. More than 138,000 Americans are fighting malignant brain tumors. By the end of the year, another 26,000 will be diagnosed. More than nine out of ten of those diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most common type, will pass away within five years.

Medical science has yet to find a breakthrough. Standard clinical trials tested 78 potential brain tumor drugs between 1998 and 2014. Three showed promise. The other 75 failed.

Why has science been unable to make a dent? Research has defaulted to pharmaceutical companies burdened with a lengthy and costly drug testing system. Market forces and the risk of side effects have led pharmaceutical companies to make glioblastoma their lowest priority.

There is a better way, one that counts on research and academic institutions to bring passion and innovation to the development of new drugs.

Developing a new standard of care

Barrow Neurological Institute is leading a national movement to quickly identify the drugs that will save lives. The new approach is the Phase 0/2 trial, which can test drugs in as little as four months, with as few as 15 patients, and at a fraction of the conventional cost.

In Phase 0, an approach pioneered by our Director of Neurosurgical Oncology, Dr. Nader Sanai, a patient receives a small dose of an experimental drug a day before surgery. During the operation, doctors collect tumor tissue, blood and spinal fluid, and test the samples immediately following surgery to determine if the drug was effective.

If it wasn’t, the patient is referred to other therapies. But if it was, the patient moves directly into a Phase 2 component of the trial and receives a higher daily dose of the experimental drug, offering a better chance for success than in standard trials. Ultimately, this personalized medicine strategy to brain tumor treatment will allow Barrow to establish a new standard of care employing drugs, chemotherapy and radiation.

This approach allows for dozens of drugs to be tested quickly, thus identifying cures faster. Partnering with other top research institutes – Mayo Cancer Center, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Yale Cancer Institute, University of California, Los Angeles Cancer Center and Translational Genomics Research Institute – and pharmaceutical companies, will further progress.

Researchers in the Ivy Brain Tumor Center

Accelerating the search for a cure

Thanks to the generous support of The Ben and Catherine Ivy Foundation, Barrow will soon intensify and accelerate these research efforts. The Ivy

Foundation, the largest non-governmental supporter of brain tumor research in the United States, has funded patient-focused research on glioblastoma since 2005. Since that time, it has invested over $82 million toward the ultimate goal of curing brain cancer. The Foundation identified Dr. Sanai and his Phase 0/2 program as a leading contender for a breakthrough. Now open, the Ivy Brain Tumor Center at the Barrow Neurological Institute is assembling a program specializing in high-throughput Phase 0/2 clinical trials for glioblastoma patients by identifying new first-in-class drug combinations that will attack this deadly cancer.

As the Center grows, every patient, regardless of diagnosis or stage of the brain tumor, will have the option to enroll in a Phase 0/2 clinical trial. The expansion in lab space and the recruitment of top brain tumor scientists and clinical staff will fast-track medical discovery and offer hope and support to those battling glioblastoma.

Thanks to The Ben and Catherine Ivy Foundation and the leadership and courage of Catherine Ivy, who lost her husband to glioblastoma, the opportunity to cure brain cancer will be on a path to realization.

For more information on supporting the Ivy Brain Tumor Center, please contact the Barrow Neurological Foundation at 602.406.3041 or visit

Nader Sanai, MD, is the director of neurosurgical oncology and oversees all clinically directed brain tumor research at Barrow. Dr. Sanai is one of only a handful of neurosurgeons in the country serving as the principal investigator of a prestigious NIH R01 grant. He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of California, San Diego and obtained his doctorate in medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, where he also completed his neurosurgery residency. In 2009, Dr. Sanai joined Barrow to complete a clinical fellowship in skull-base surgery and was then recruited to become Barrow’s director of neurosurgical oncology.