Local neurosurgical oncologist helps lead search for brain cancer treatments

Dr. Nader Sanai
(Ivy Brain Tumor Center)

After seeing several family members battle glioblastoma, Dr. Nader Sanai began a career in neurosurgical oncology with the goal of finding a cure for patients who have brain tumors.

To facilitate that work, he co-founded the Ivy Brain Tumor Center at the nonprofit Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona.

“Our mission as a center is to find a cure for brain cancers, and glioblastoma in particular,” said Sanai, who graduated from UC San Diego and splits time between Phoenix and Del Mar. “We’re very lucky in that we have had a lot of community support from within our state and across the nation that enables us to scale our efforts at a really high level.”

Glioblastoma accounts for about half of all primary malignant brain tumors, according to the National Brain Tumor Society, and can strike people across all demographics. The five-year survival rate is 6.8%, and patients survive an average of eight months. Those figures have been about the same for decades, and patients have historically had limited treatment options.

“The center is really focused on finding new drugs for them,” Sanai said. “What we’re trying to do is create therapeutic options for our patient population that has very few. I think everyone is aware that brain cancer patients in general do very poorly and don’t have a lot of options compared to people with other tumors.”

Long before entering the field and opening the Ivy Brain Tumor Center, Sanai was a high school student in Northern California.

“During those times I had several members of my family and extended family that were affected by glioblastoma, which is the most common brain cancer in adults and considered to be the deadliest cancer in humans,” Sanai said.

He added, “Despite really incredible clinical care from neurosurgeons and others, there were very few options therapeutically that had an effect.”

Through clinical trials, Ivy Brain Center is working toward a solution.

“Our timeline is really ASAP. We’re leveraging all of our resources on testing new drugs and new strategies,” Sanai said. “We have a rule of thumb in our program that we’re not going to test anything that’s already been tested. We think that the best way forward for this patient population is to just purely explore uncharted territories, which is surprisingly not common in this space just because of the small scale of brain cancer research nationally compared to other cancer research.”

Visit www.IvyBrainTumorCenter.org for more information.