In 2011, the National Cancer Institute estimated that 22,340 persons in the United States would be diagnosed with brain and other nervous system cancers and that 13,110 individuals would die of these tumors. The most common and aggressive type of brain cancer in humans is glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the disease that killed U. S. Senator Edward Moore “Ted” Kennedy in 2009. Without treatment, the median survival time after diagnosis is just three months, but even with treatment, prognosis is poor: a median survival time of only 14 months. Although surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy may prolong survival, GBM is currently an incurable disease.
In order to treat brain cancers, including GBM, more effectively, physicians must be able to diagnose them precisely early on, resect them while sparing normal brain tissue, predict and monitor response to therapies, and monitor for potential recurrence.
To hasten these advances, the Ben and Catherine Ivy Foundation, based in Phoenix, AZ, awarded $10 million to Stanford University School of Medicine Professor of Radiology, Sanjiv “Sam” Gambhir, MD, PhD in 2011. The Foundation will allocate the funds to Gambhir over five years to develop a neuro-molecular imaging program that will merge advances in molecular biology with those in biomedical imaging to improve the molecular imaging of GBM. Molecular imaging uses probes known as imaging agents/tracers to interact chemically with their tissue/cellular surroundings and alter images to display molecular changes. Gambhir’s strategies stand to markedly aid in the management of GBM, make it possible to provide individualized care for brain cancer patients, and address current limitations in brain imaging for monitoring response to treatment.
Gambhir and his team will develop new imaging agents to make it possible to visualize GBM at the molecular level in detail, revealing the rate at which tumor cells multiply and die, the growth of new blood vessels on which tumor enlargement depends, and receptors on tumor cells that could receive chemical signals useful for intervening against the disease.
The team will also develop new procedures for using the first fully integrated system in the world that can simultaneously image the brain using PET (positron emission tomography, an imaging method that creates three-dimensional images of radioactive tracer concentrations within the body that are then assembled by computer analysis) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging, an imaging method that temporarily affects the magnetization of cell nuclei in a scanned area of the body, producing anatomical information used to construct an image)—as well as MRS (magnetic resonance spectroscopy, a technique for measuring chemicals within the body and brain without biopsying tissue or taking blood samples). Patients will be able to have all of these imaging procedures done simultaneously on a system that integrates the strengths of each type of technology. Gambhir’s team will also use molecular imaging to monitor response to state-of-the-art therapies in which patients’ own T-cells are engineered to destroy their GBM, a process known as adoptive immunotherapy. Studies to link blood testing along with imaging will also be explored.
In addition, the Ivy Foundation award will enable Gambhir’s team to conduct clinical trials to evaluate the safety of the most promising imaging agents in GBM patients.
The Ivy Foundation was created by Benjamin “Ben” Franklin Ivy III and his wife, Catherine E. Ivy, in order to support medical research in brain tumors. According to Catherine Ivy, founder and president of the board of directors of the Ivy Foundation, “This project represents the strategy of the Ivy Foundation to fund innovative, creative research for brain tumors. We are confident this project will provide insight to our goal of how to double life expectancy of patients diagnosed with glioma within seven years.”
Catherine Ivy has a very personal interest in this work. She became involved in the brain tumor community when her husband, Ben Ivy, lost his battle with glioblastoma in 2005. Since that year, Catherine Ivy has led the Ivy Foundation, which has contributed more than $50 million to research in gliomas within the United States and Canada. She continues to support research in this field, with the goal of better diagnostics and treatments that offer long-term survival and a high quality of life for patients with brain tumors. The Ben and Catherine Ivy Foundation is the largest privately funded foundation in the United States dedicated to improving the survival and quality of life for people with brain tumors. The foundation strives to achieve that goal by funding patient-focused research—interdisciplinary, collaborative investigations in which tissue samples and clinical data from glioma patients fuel bidirectional efforts between the laboratory and the clinic to develop diagnostics and treatments tailored to the varying needs of individual patients.
Ben Ivy graduated with a bachelor of mechanical engineering degree from Cornell University and received his MBA from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business. He was President of Ivy Financial Enterprises, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisory firm in Palo Alto, CA. He was a Certified Financial Planner and a registered principal of Associated Securities Corp. who specialized in investment real estate. Catherine Ivy, a Certified Financial Planner, has worked in the financial planning industry for more than 23 years. Prior to becoming involved in the brain tumor community, she served as owner and president of Ivy Financial Planning and Associates, LLC, in Palo Alto, CA. She has a master’s degree in personal financial planning from Golden Gate University and a bachelor’s degree in finance from Arizona State University.
Gambhir is Stanford’s Virginia & D. K. Ludwig Professor of Cancer Research; chair of the Department of Radiology at Stanford University School of Medicine; director of the Molecular Imaging Program at Stanford; director of the Canary Center for Cancer Early Detection at Stanford; a member of the Stanford Cancer Institute; and a member of Stanford’s Bio-X Program (an enterprise that facilitates interdisciplinary research and teaching in the areas of bioengineering, biomedicine, and the biosciences).
A world-renowned leader in the field of nuclear medicine and molecular imaging, Gambhir is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. He is the recipient of many notable awards, including the 2011 Georg Charles de Hevesy Nuclear Pioneer Award from the Society of Nuclear Medicine. This award bears the name of the Nobel Laureate who is considered the father of nuclear medicine. After receiving his medical and doctoral degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Gambhir joined the faculty at UCLA in 1994. He joined Stanford, along with 35 members of his laboratory, in August 2003, and recently became the chair of the Department of Radiology at Stanford University School of Medicine.