Episode 3: Priya Kumthekar

Guest: Dr. Priya Kumthekar, neuro-oncologist at Northwestern University Medicine

In the latest episode of Game On Glio, host Shannon M. Traphagen is joined by neuro-oncologist and principle investigator Dr. Priya Kumthekar of Northwestern University Medicine in Chicago. Priya shares promising developments from her ongoing clinical trials, and helps Shannon and the listeners understand how new treatments make their way through clinical trial phases, with the most safe and successful treatments getting approved for general use.

What does a neuro-oncologist do?

A neuro-oncologist is a key member of the team of doctors treating a brain tumor. They are the person who oversees medical (non-surgical) care for someone with a brain or spine tumor. Neuro-oncology is an advanced specialty, and patients will want to find a neuro-oncologist at a top cancer center. Neuro-oncologists like Priya also design and run clinical trials, so you need one if you want to access cutting-edge medicine.

What is a clinical trial?

A clinical trial is the most important tool we have in our medical system to advance the state-of-the-art against diseases. A clinical trial is an effort undertaken by doctors and their patients to use new drugs or medical techniques against a real disease. The clinical trial process is broken up into phases to ensure maximize safety for patients while still helping doctors understand where and when a new treatment may be effective. For many diseases, including brain tumors, clinical trials are a way to access treatments when the standard treatments available aren’t enough. Clinical trials are run by investigators at National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers, and patients can find one by talking to their medical team or searching ClinicalTrials.gov.

What are spherical nucleic acids?

Spherical nucleic acids are a new class of nanoparticle that have been studied and developed by scientists at Northwestern and elsewhere since 1996, and now with Dr. Kumthekar’s research, is showing a great deal of early progress against glioblastoma (and potentially other treatment-resistant brain and spine tumors, although that has yet to be studied). They consist of DNA or RNA strands encircling a nanoparticle. Their power lies in their ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and deactivate genes that enable brain tumors to grow and spread.

What is the blood-brain barrier?

The Blood-brain barrier is a structure inside the brain that prevents molecules from crossing from the bloodstream into the nerve tissue inside the brain. Under normal circumstances, it protects the vital tissue of the brain, but during brain tumor treatment, it can interfere with efforts to fight a tumor using chemotherapy drugs. To learn more about the blood-brain barrier, read our article.

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