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Christopher Alvarez-Breckenridge, MD, PhD

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Treatment for glioblastoma

Christopher Alvarez-Breckenridge, MD, PhD, received a TL1 Mentored Research grant in July 2010 after he completed his PhD formal training. He is conducting his research on a unique treatment for glioblastoma.

Alvarez-Breckenridge has realized that there are not many good therapeutic options for this type of brain cancer. He is researching a new treatment which uses viruses to kill tumors, particularly the oncolytic herpes virus.

Natural killer cells, or NK cells, have a primary role in the treatment. NK cells have two primary purposes: they clear viral infections and have been shown to clear tumors in certain situations. “If they clear a virus that’s a bad thing, but if they kill tumor cells, that’s a good thing,” Alvarez-Breckenridge said. “My project tries to flush out what NK cells do in the case of oncolytic therapy for nucleo blastoma.”

He is using the Caligiuri Lab for his research under the mentorship of Michael Caligiuri, MD. The Caligiuri Lab has over ten years of experience working with viruses. Alvarez-Breckenridge has found that the herpes therapy works well on animals. However, it does not seem to be working in clinical trials. The immune cell response is not satisfactory.

Alvarez-Breckenridge is experienced with the concept of translational research and has primarily focused on breast cancer in the past. “As I started the program here I felt a tug toward the neurosciences and trying to tackle a disease that we don’t have good tools in our arsenal for,” he said. “It’s in my nature to tackle a challenge.”

His research has proven to be a challenge. The work he does involves trying to get the oncolytic viruses into a clinical trial. They are more complicated than using a new chemotherapy unit. The process to gain approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for chemotherapy drugs is more straightforward. It is not quite the case for oncolytic viruses.

Alvarez-Breckenridge learned that it is a slow science to cure cancers. “Before starting, I fell into the crowd frustrated by the slow pace of things, so I’ve gained an appreciation for the process of science and the scientific community all working together in their own ways and taking incremental steps,” he said. “There are going to be failures but it’s all about building upon failures and successes.”

By Nuala McSweeney, Friday, March 2, 2012

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