Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors Program

Premier Research Program

Penn's Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors Research Program

Our extensive research efforts make us one of the most comprehensive Brain and Spinal Cord programs in the country.

Since Penn's discovery of the Philadelphia Chromosome which revolutionized cancer treatment, we've had a history of groundbreaking research.

Every day, Penn scientists and physicians work to increase our knowledge about brain and spinal cord tumors and to find new ways to prevent and treat this disease. Because of these efforts, research advances can more quickly benefit our patients.

We are at the forefront in a number of areas, all of which can make a difference today and in the future.

Making History — Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors

  • Charles Harrison Frazier (Dean, UPENN School of Medicine, 1903-1913, and Chair Department of Surgery, 1923) with Harvey Cushing, was responsible for the development of neurosurgery in the United States. He inaugurated a dynasty of neurosurgical excellence at the University of Pennsylvania, being succeeded, in turn, by locally trained students Francis Grant (1891-1967), Robert Groff (1903-1975), and Frederick Murtagh (1917-1996) and later by Thomas W. Langfitt (1927-), Eugene S. Flamm (1937-) and M. Sean Grady (1955-).
  • Penn's leadership in developing and testing new treatment approaches for central nervous system tumors is widely recognized., Penn specialists use new procedures that allow the surgeon to combine the use of the operating microscope, surgical laser, and computer-guided tumor detection techniques that use CT scan and MRI scan images of the brain and central nervous system.These advances allow our neurosurgeons to remove tumors in cases which were previously considered to be "inoperable."

Shaping the Future

Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors

  • Our clinical trials program, which evaluates the effectiveness of new therapies, gives our patients access to the latest treatment advances, including gene therapy. In fact, many of the newest and most innovative approaches available at Penn are not offered elsewhere in the region.
  • Our acclaimed laboratory research program is addressing some of the most fundamental CNS tumor problems, such as: what controls CNS tumor growth, what makes CNS tumors difficult to treat and which of the new strategies developed in the laboratory will have the greatest likelihood of becoming a major advance in CNS cancer treatment.
  • Penn neurosurgeons, were able to accurately predict the specific genetic mutation that caused brain cancer in a group of patients studied using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Historically tumor mutations have been identified by taking the tissue out and examining it using one of two laboratory tests to see if the mutation is present. In this study the identification was noninvasive. This is the first demonstration that an MRI, or any imaging technique, can accurately predict the type of mutation of a human tumor.
  • Dr. Donald O'Rourke is interested in the cell and molecular biology of erbB family receptor tyrosine kinases, including the ErbB1/Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) and the p185ErbB2/neu receptor kinases. Present research aims include:
    • To understand the mechanisms of cell death in erbB receptor-containing glial cells during normal development and following oncogenic transformation.
    • To understand the biochemical mechanisms of erbB signal attenuation in transformed glial cells of the central nervous system.
    • To apply this understanding to the design of rational, biologically-based drugs for diseases such as malignant glioma and CNS neurodegenerative pathologies.