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Doctors, nurses at UAMS on mission to advance brain tumor research, treatment

Inside the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, a team of doctors, nurses, and others are on a mission to advance brain tumor research and treatment.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — An estimated 84,00 people in the U.S. will receive a brain tumor diagnosis this year. Those tumors can be debilitating and deadly.

Inside the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, a team of doctors, nurses, and others are on a mission to advance brain tumor research and treatment — work made possible by a gift from their patients.

"We have been so blessed that many of our patients have donated their brain tissue for research purposes," Dr. Analiz Rodriguez, director of neuro-oncology at UAMS, said.

That leftover tissue collected during surgery makes up the UAMS brain tumor bank. It started in 2019, with about 120 patients donating tissue that year.

"We ask people if they would be willing to donate that to research," Rodriguez said. "If they're willing to donate it to research, we bring it to the research laboratory in our cancer center and grow the tumors."

Rodriguez and her team study the intricacies of each tumor. She describes them as fingerprints of sorts. 

"Just like your fingerprint is unique, your tumor is unique," Rodriguez said. "We're starting to understand as doctors that's how we deliver therapy. What may work for you may not work for another person."

Doctors not only use what they find to develop therapies for future patients, but in some cases, they are able to treat existing tumors that aren't responding to other therapy.

"It's not just for the 'oh, research is fun,'" Rodriguez said. "It's really 'how can I help someone? How can we take these advances and change brain tumor diagnosis and make people live longer?'"

The donations come from people across Arkansas.

"We'll probably continue this forever because as we gain more information, we'll find more things," Rodriguez said. "Also, we're looking to start clinical trials, where we grow people's tumors and test drugs and then potentially use those drugs for their treatment."

Click here to learn more about brain tissue banking at UAMS.