In honor of May as Brain Tumor Awareness Month nationally and May 4-11 as Brain Tumor Awareness Week in Ohio, The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) is proud to share the personal vision of Vinay Puduvalli, MBBS, the new director of Neuro-Oncology at the OSUCCC – James.
Puduvalli’s career trek from medical school in his native India to director of the Division of Neuro-Oncology at the OSUCCC – James was born of biological intrigue and patient compassion.
“As a house officer, I helped care for a 29-year-old woman with a highly malignant brain tumor, a glioblastoma,” recalls Puduvalli. “She’d become a new mother shortly before her diagnosis, and then she learned that she had less than a year to live.
“It was heart-wrenching. I became deeply interested in brain tumors overnight,” he adds. “The fundamental intellectual challenge of understanding why a cell goes off-track in the brain and develops into this malignancy, combined with the intensely human aspect of cancer, fueled my interest in neuro-oncology.”
After earning his medical degree, Puduvalli journeyed to the United States to study and practice both neurology and oncology. “In those days, in India, clinical demands were high and the idea of doctors doing research was alien; there was no infrastructure for it and no one to guide someone who wanted to do this,” he says.
After a year of basic research training at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, he completed a residency in neurology at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center and a fellowship in neuro-oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center. He joined the MD Anderson faculty in 1999 and eventually became director of clinical research in the Department of Neuro-Oncology before coming to Ohio State in January 2013.
Puduvalli’s vision for the Division of Neuro-Oncology is to translate more discoveries into treatments and to do so in a way that takes into account patients’ quality of life. Ohio State, he says, has the multidisciplinary resources and the will to help realize this vision. He believes this will bring together the strong efforts in clinical care, patient support and survivorship already established at the university.
“Leadership at the OSUCCC – James is strongly invested in the success of its faculty,” he says. “In addition, the OSUCCC – James administration has a single-minded focus on excellence that is supported by extensive resources and talent in the medical center and the university.”
Puduvalli will strengthen the integration of clinical neuro-oncology research with the existing brain-tumor research group housed primarily in the Dardinger Neuro-Oncology Center. Their work involves preclinical models, viral therapies, tumor profiling and targeted-agent identification.
“Gliomas are the most devastating of primary brain tumors,” Puduvalli says. “Basic research is giving us a deeper understanding of their biology. As a result, the next generation of treatments will be tailored to the molecular features of brain tumors rather than to their pathological characteristics. One area of our research is the role of epigenetic changes in tumor biology.”
Epigenetics refers to chemical changes in genes that affect their expression but do not involve changes in the DNA sequence such as mutations. Consequently, epigenetic changes in tumors are potentially reversible.
Puduvalli and his lab are investigating whether epigenetic mechanisms help cancer cells survive, proliferate and resist therapy. “We use insights gained from our lab research to generate clinical trials using drugs that modify epigenetic responses in malignant glioma,” he says. “This concept drives a significant part of the basic and clinical components of my research.” Puduvalli currently leads clinical trials that utilize some of these agents in combination strategies for patients with glioblastoma.
Puduvalli’s research also addresses the need for advanced clinical trial designs when evaluating targeted drugs.
“Traditional clinical trial designs are built around the older chemotherapeutic agents, but most of the newer agents don’t quite fit that model,” he says. “There are so many new agents emerging that, if we use traditional models, we would spend decades determining which drugs make the cut for further study. If you take into account drug combinations, there are even more options to explore.
“It’s imperative that we use new clinical trial designs to screen these agents more efficiently,” Puduvalli adds.
To read more about Puduvalli’s work at the OSUCCC – James, read the entire story in the Winter 2014 issue of Frontiers. You can also join Dr. Puduvalli for an informative discussion about brain cancer during the JamesCare for Life “Ask the Expert” panel discussion on neuro-oncology on May 8.
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