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Tracking Cancer’s DNA: Brain Tumors

With the help of a National Institutes of Health study and patients at the UC Brain Tumor Center and Mayfield Clinic, Christopher McPherson is mapping brain cancer genomes—a visionary project that could lead to improved treatments for future generations.

As a neurosurgeon, I treat disorders of the brain, spine, and nerves that typically require surgery. There are 200,000 new brain tumors estimated to be diagnosed in 2012 nationwide—60,000 of those will be what we call primary brain tumors, which are those that start in the brain like gliomas, and the majority of those will be glioblastoma, which is the malignant form. So it’s more common than people think. We would say in some ways the gliomas are very smart cancers—they evade the immune system. They grow very fast, so they also mutate very fast; even though one therapy may work for a while, the gliomas develop resistance and change very quickly.