News Release

Sylvester Cancer launches new brain tumor institute to personalize brain cancer treatment

Multidisciplinary institute will focus on identifying precision medicine treatments for all patients with brain tumors, including those with the most aggressive types of brain tumors, such as glioblastoma

Business Announcement

University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

Sylvester Brain Tumor Institute Leadership


Led by Antonio Iavarone, M.D., director, Sylvester Brain Tumor Institute leadership includes (left to right) Macarena de la Fuente, M.D., Anna Lasorella, M.D., and Ricardo Komotar, M.D. The new institute will focus on personalized medicine approaches for treating patients with brain tumors, including those with the most aggressive types of brain tumors, such as glioblastoma.

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Credit: Photo by Sylvester

MIAMI, FLORIDA (May 8, 2024)Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine today announced establishment of a new institute to elevate brain cancer care and research in South Florida and beyond. The Sylvester Brain Tumor Institute will focus on personalized medicine approaches for treating all patients with brain tumors, including those with the most aggressive types of brain tumors, such as glioblastoma.

It will feature a multidisciplinary approach to treatment and research, bringing together experts in many areas of this field to collaborate on developing more targeted, personalized care for brain cancer patients.

“The Sylvester Brain Tumor Institute will further enable Sylvester to increase the impact of its research and clinical work, creating a thriving environment for generating new discoveries, as well as a superb place to train brain tumor focused physicians and staff,” said Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., director of Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, Oscar de la Renta Endowed Chair in Cancer Research and executive dean for research at the Miller School of Medicine. “The institute will promote more new discoveries that will help patients with brain tumors worldwide.”

Leaders plan to eventually expand the scope beyond glioblastoma to other types of adult and pediatric brain cancers. This is the third cancer research entity at Sylvester, joining previously established institutes for pancreatic cancer and myeloma.

Collaboration to conquer tough cancer

Glioblastoma remains a daunting challenge in neuro-oncology because it is almost always fatal. The most common brain cancer, it has an average survival after diagnosis of only 12 to 18 months, and five-year survival rates are just 7%.

“The institute will allow us to have a critical mass of clinicians, surgeons, translational scientists and basic scientists working together toward a goal of generating treatments that are tailored to each individual patient at Sylvester,” said new Institute Director Antonio Iavarone, M.D., who also serves as deputy director of Sylvester and a professor of neurological surgery and biochemistry and molecular biology at the UM/Miller School. “This is a complex and ambitious goal. You need multiple people with complementary expertise working together — this is what has driven the creation of the SBTI.”

Along with Iavarone, the institute’s leadership will include Macarena de la Fuente, M.D., co-director of Clinical Neuro-Oncology, who is also chief of Sylvester’s Neuro-Oncology Division and an associate professor of neurology at UM/Miller; Ricardo Komotar, M.D., surgical director, who is a professor and program director in neurosurgery at UM/Miller; and Anna Lasorella, M.D., co-director of Basic and Translational Research, who also is a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and director of Sylvester’s Precision Medicine Institute.

Tailored laboratory models

To work toward new personalized treatments for glioblastoma patients, the SBTI researchers will take a multi-disciplinary approach that entails creating unique laboratory models of each patient’s tumor. Komotar’s team will lead the collection of biopsied tissue from patients who undergo brain surgery, typically the first step in glioblastoma treatment. That tissue will then be used to create two types of models: patient-derived organoids, miniature tumors grown in the lab from biopsied cancer cells, and patient-derived xenografts, where tumor cells are re-grown in the laboratory and studied in pre-clinical models.

This approach will allow the scientists to not only study the biology of different brain tumors in detail, but to test different drugs on the patients’ tumors in the lab. Ultimately, they hope to offer patients precision treatments based directly on these studies; in the near term, the studies inform treatment recommendations using already-approved drugs and lead to new clinical trials for newly discovered kinds of treatments.

Although Sylvester investigators have already been using patient-derived organoids and xenografts, those efforts will be bolstered and scaled up.

“Because each patient is so different, we really need to have patient-derived material for all our molecular studies and all of the translational work that is carried out in the lab,” Lasorella said.

SBTI researchers are also studying how glioblastoma evolves when it recurs after treatment. By understanding how the tumors change and develop treatment resistance, they will be able to develop new treatments that prevent the cancers from recurring in the first place.

Improving clinical trials and patient care

“Over the last few decades, many clinical trials have failed because in a way, we’re trying to paint all these tumors with one brush,” de la Fuente said. “We know these are tumors that are very different from patient to patient, and one treatment to fit all is not going to be broadly successful.”

Following a patient-centered approach to study glioblastoma will enable de la Fuente and her colleagues to speed more promising treatments into early-phase clinical trials and, ultimately, to -FDA approval.

Additionally, institute researchers will look for biomarkers in the lab models that may predict how patients will respond to certain treatments. Identifying enough biomarkers could result in more rapid development of personalized care for brain cancer.

“My experience at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center has been excellent,” said Kathy Maxted of North Palm Beach, who was diagnosed with a glioblastoma in 2017. “The care has made a world of difference for me. I’m ecstatic about the new Sylvester Brain Tumor Institute. There’s so much advanced technology with machines and AI and science that will become available to doctors to use to treat cancer and improve the quality of life for patients.”

Decade-long goal realized

The institute’s launch represents the culmination of years of work by Sylvester researchers and physicians.

“Our goal for the past decade has been to establish an institute and center of excellence for brain tumors in South Florida to bring the best possible care to brain cancer patients,” Komotar said. “It’s incredibly satisfying to see it come to fruition.”

Read more about this important research on the InventUM Blog and follow @SylvesterCancer on X for the latest news on its research and care.


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