Sylvester Researchers Present Breakthrough Studies at Society for Neuro-Oncology’s Annual Meeting

A group of researchers that only recently moved to Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of UHealth – University of Miami Health System and University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, from Columbia University showcased groundbreaking work on glioblastoma last month during the world’s largest neuro-oncology conference, the 27th Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuro-Oncology in Tampa, Florida.

Members of the Iavarone/Lasorella Lab at SNO posing for a photo.
Members of the Iavarone/Lasorella Lab at SNO

Taking their glioblastoma research to the next level compelled the group to make the move to Sylvester, not only to continue the research but to build collaborations that would help translate their findings to the clinic.

Simona Migliozzi, Ph.D., an assistant scientist in the laboratory of Antonio Iavarone, M.D., Sylvester’s new deputy director, orally presented “Pathway-based stratification of glioblastoma by multi-omics informs subtype-specific master kinases-phosphosite substrates.” The research has high basic and translational innovation and is in the final stage of revision at a high-impact journal. Dr. Migliozzi, first author on the study, was one of 16 young investigators globally to be selected for the Society for Neuro-Oncology’s Abstract Award in the category Excellence in Molecular Pathology.

Simona Migliozzi, Ph.D posing with colleagues.
Simona Migliozzi, Ph.D. (third from left), received the Abstract Award for Excellence in Molecular Pathology.

“The award is incredibly important because this is the largest brain tumor meeting and attended by scientists and clinicians from all over the world,” Dr. Iavarone said. “The award is the recognition that the type of platform we developed for the first time will deliver benefit for patients.”

The award and opportunity to present at a meeting of this caliber are exciting and motivate further research and efforts, according to Dr. Migliozzi, who received $1,000 in meeting travel expenses as part of the Society for Neuro-Oncology award.

“It is a great honor to receive an award for the abstract and present to top researchers and oncologists in our specialty from around the world,” Dr. Migliozzi said.

The overarching aim of all the research being presented by Sylvester scientists and their collaborators is to identify precision therapy opportunities for patients with otherwise incurable cancers, according to Dr. Iavarone.

“That is unfortunately the case of the malignant tumor we primarily study, glioblastoma multiforme. Patients with glioblastoma have a median survival of only 15 months after diagnosis, and the current therapy is minimally effective,” Dr. Iavarone said.

While the specifics of the study are under embargo, the research presented by Dr. Migliozzi describes a new way of classifying glioblastoma, according to Anna Lasorella, M.D., professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Sylvester.

“Another important work that we are presenting at the meeting investigates a particular alteration in glioblastoma that we now can target with a specific treatment. We have submitted that research to Cancer Discovery,” Dr. Lasorella said. “Most of the work in our lab not only address the biology of this very aggressive tumor—glioblastoma multiforme—but we also integrate the knowledge of genetics, proteomics, and biology to address the critical need of patients with glioblastoma, which is to identify new treatment avenues.”

To reach those goals, the Sylvester team is using new technologies, from computational analysis to single cell analysis and proteomics.

“We analyze these tumors using molecular platforms that typically have not been utilized to guide precision therapies and incorporate the information in our pipeline of data generation, including highly complex data sets for each patient,” Dr. Iavarone said. “Data are then analyzed using computational algorithms. In addition, we use patient avatars that derive from tumor cells collected from patients, which we grow in vitro to test therapeutic sensitivity and obtain predictions of candidate effective drugs for a specific patient.”

The Society for Neuro-Oncology is an ideal platform for the work because the society focuses on innovative science and translational outcomes.

“To obtain new results, you need to think out of the box and use new technologies. This is what we pioneered in glioblastoma,” Dr. Lasorella said. “We use innovative technology and computational tools. Computationally, our group is very advanced. With these tools, we have been able to discover new aspects of the glioblastoma biology and actionable targets. This is likely what drove the society’s attention to the work that our group is doing.”

Glioblastoma research of the Sylvester group’s is translational, which means it is focused on finding new therapies.

Dr. Migliozzi, who joined Sylvester with Dr. Iavarone’s lab, said that the opportunity to work alongside oncologists and having access to the cancer center’s tumor biobank will help to accelerate the group’s research.

“With the strong biobank here, we hope to improve our classification of glioblastoma multiforme and to translate findings to the clinic,” Dr. Migliozzi said.

Seats at the Table for Women and Diversity Luncheon

Macarena de la Fuente, M.D., chief of neuro-oncology at Sylvester, co-chairs the Society for Neuro-Oncology’s Women and Diversity Committee, which had a key role in this year’s annual meeting.

“The Society for Neuro-Oncology hosted the Women and Diversity Award and Networking Reception and the Women and Diversity Lunch Session,” said Dr. de la Fuente, who moderated the award and networking reception, during which 10 Underrepresented in Medicine (URiM) Travel Scholarships and a Women in Neuro-Oncology Mid-Career Exemplary Physician Award were awarded.

Ashish H. Shah, M.D.
Ashish H. Shah, M.D.

The Women and Diversity Lunch Session, “Building a Pathway to Academic Success in Neuro-oncology,” featured author of “The Success Factor,” Ruth Gotian, Ed.D., M.S., and speakers Sadhana Jackson, M.D., of the National Institutes of Health, and Ashish H. Shah, M.D., assistant professor, director of Clinical Trials and Translational Research and principal investigator, Section of Virology and Immunotherapy at Sylvester’s Brain Tumor Initiative.

“This interactive session focused on navigating career development from the instructor/assistant professor level and above, with an emphasis on challenges for women, gender minorities, and URiM professionals. It provided insights and actionable tips to attendees,” Dr. Macarena said.

Dr. Shah’s focus at the luncheon was on pearls for how junior faculty can set up a lab.

Presentations with Big Implications

Dr. Shah also presented “Defining the role of Human Endogenous Retrovirus-K (HML-2) in the glioblastoma stem-cell niche,” research suggesting that HML-2 is overexpressed in glioblastoma’s cancer stem-cell niche.

“Since glioblastoma stem cells are considered responsible for treatment resistance and recurrence, human endogenous retroviruses may serve as a unique therapeutic target in glioblastoma,” according to the study’s abstract.

Michael E. Ivan, M.D., M.B.S.
Michael E. Ivan, M.D., M.B.S.

Michael E. Ivan, M.D., M.B.S., director of research at Sylvester’s Brain Tumor Initiative and associate professor of neurological surgery, presented 12 poster abstracts.

Representing the Miller School as director of the Brain Tumor Fellowship program, Dr. Ivan showcased the cancer center’s work on a wide range of neuro-oncology topics, including the studies “The dual role CD97 plays in glioblastoma invasion and proliferation” and “Adult midline gliomas treated with laser interstitial thermal therapy (LITT): Our comparative experience with needle biopsy.”

“These studies focus on novel ways we are treating brain tumors, by first developing novel treatments to stop their spread and also using minimally invasive approaches with a laser, to prevent tumor progression and allow patients to return to their quality of life as quickly as possible,” Dr. Ivan said. “We were also proud to have played an integral role in a multi-institutional clinical trial that received a Society for Neuro-Oncology’s Award for Excellence, “CTNI-65 – INTUITT-NF2, an adaptive platform-basket trial for neurofibromatosis 2 patients with progressive tumors: interim results of the brigatinib treatment arm.’”

Dr. Ivan was a co-investigator on the trial, and Christine Dinh, M.D., associate professor of otolaryngology, otology, neurotology, and lateral skull base surgery at the Miller School, was co-author of the paper. The phase 2 trial of patients with neurofibromatosis type 2, a disorder characterized by growth of noncancerous tumors in the nervous system, showed that brigatinib treatment was well tolerated and was associated with a radiographic response rate defined as 20% or more decrease in target tumor volume.

Tags: Cancer Discovery, Dr. Ashish Shah, Dr. Macarena de la Fuente, Dr. Michael Ivan, glioblastoma multiforme, glioblastoma research, Miller School of Medicine, Society for Neuro-Oncology, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, UHealth