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Brain Tumor SPORE grant at UCSF Receives $12 Million Renewal from NCI

With a renewed Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant, the UC San Francisco Brain Tumor Center is receiving $12 million dollars over five years to translate scientific findings into improved care for people with brain tumors.

The award marks the fifth cycle of continuous support for the UCSF Brain Tumor SPORE program since the National Cancer Institute (NCI) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) first established brain tumor SPOREs in 2002.

This SPORE grant – led by UCSF Brain Tumor Center director Mitchel Berger, MD – funds three projects focused on developing noninvasive ways to better predict patient outcomes and a new immunotherapy for glioma.

Three-panel collage showing images of blood cells, hyperpolarized C-13 imaging, and an illustration of a T cell
The UCSF Brain Tumor SPORE supports three translational research projects that focus on developing non-invasive ways to predict outcomes for brain tumor patients and a new immunotherapy. Clockwise from top left: Scanning electron micrograph of blood cells (Credit: National Cancer Institute), hyperpolarized C-13 imaging (Image courtesy of Daniel Vigneron, PhD), illustration of a T cell (Credit: Ken Probst).

The first project is testing an innovative new technique pioneered at UCSF called immunomethylomics. It characterizes unique DNA methylation patterns on immune cells circulating in the blood, and could be used to measure immune suppression. Led by Annette Molinaro, PhD, John Wiencke, PhD, and Jennie Taylor, MD, MPH, the research aims to develop a non-invasive blood test that can assess response to tumor therapies and give more accurate prognosis by analyzing a patient’s immune system profile.

The scientists working on the second project – led by Pavithra Viswanath, PhD, Yan Li, MD, PhD, and Susan Chang, MD – are also using a novel approach to evaluate the response to brain tumor therapies. With an advanced medical imaging technology called hyperpolarized C-13 imaging, researchers can track dynamic changes in the tumor’s metabolism. The goal of this project is to characterize tumor burden by monitoring the metabolism of gliomas with mutations in isocitrate dehydrogenase (IDH) – an enzyme which normally makes α-ketoglutarate but instead produces the oncometabolite 2-hydroxyglutarate when mutated.

The third project aims to develop a novel immunotherapy for glioblastoma. Using CAR T-cells specifically engineered to identify and kill only the tumors cells, this new therapy is poised to overcome several of the current challenges of adapting immunotherapy to brain tumors. This project is led by Hideho Okada, MD, PhD, and Jennifer Clarke, MD, MPH.

In addition to supporting these three translational research projects, the SPORE grant funds three resource cores: Administrative (Leaders: Mitchel Berger, MD, Susan Chang, MD, and Hideho Okada, MD, PhD); Biostatistics and Clinical (Leaders: Annette Molinaro, PhD, John de Groot, MD); and Biospecimen and Pathology (Leader: Joanna Phillips, MD, PhD). The Career Enhancement Project and Developmental Research Project – managed by Joseph Costello, PhD – also serve to support early career investigators and foster innovative research projects.