Clinician-to-Clinician Update Clinician-to-Clinician Update

New Research Center Targets Spreading Cancers

September 2016

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has awarded a new 5-year, $8 million grant to University of Minnesota in collaboration with the Cleveland Clinic to form the Physical Sciences and Oncology Center. With the grant, the university joins the NCI’s Physical Sciences in Oncology Network—a group of 10 centers in the United States that are bringing physics into the equation for treating cancer.

Glioblastoma is one of the most difficult cancers to manage clinically.1 In contrast to brain tumors that grow in place, the tendency of a glioblastoma tumor to spread through surrounding brain tissue makes it resistant to surgical resection and radiation. Put simply, brain cancer cells that spread rapidly are more difficult to treat. Biophysicists and oncologists at the new center are studying the physical mechanics of glioblastoma biopsies to predict how a patient’s tumor cells will move in response to chemotherapy. These predictions could help surgical oncologists and neuro-radiologists select chemotherapy for individual patients with spreading forms of cancer.

— University of Minnesota Medical Center and adjacent Masonic Cancer Center on the University of Minnesota campus

The team is first trying to understand how glioblastoma cells invade normal tissue in the brain. The center has partnered with the Mayo Clinic’s Brain Cancer Sponsored Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) to access its large bank of patient-derived brain tumor cells. Grant principal investigator David J. Odde, PhD, of University of Minnesota’s Department of Biomedical Engineering collaborates in the research with Matthew A. Hunt, MD, a University of Minnesota Health neurosurgeon and researcher in the University of Minnesota Department of Neurosurgery studying gliomas; David Largaespada, PhD, a cancer geneticist in Masonic Cancer Center at University of Minnesota; and Steve Rosenfeld, MD, PhD, a neuro-oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Working with recently obtained brain tumor biopsies, which retain many of the mechanical properties of tumors within the body, the team uses extremely sensitive equipment to detect minute physical forces in tumor cells.2 That data combined with imaging data of the tumors help build and refine a mathematical “Cell Migration Simulator” that predicts if and how tumor cells will move in response to a given chemotherapy.3 A similar research effort led by Paolo Provenzano, PhD, of University of Minnesota will seek to apply the approach to pancreatic cancer invasion and metastasis.

The NCI’s large investment in the center’s physical sciences approach suggest that these predictions are not simply mathematical exercises. The simulator is potentially precise enough that it can be tailored to model the behavior of tumors biopsied from individual patients. The long-term goal is to design drugs that target the physical traits of spreading tumors in patients with the deadliest forms of cancer. In the near term, the team believes that its methods will soon help better match patients to clinical trials based on their predicted response to a brain cancer treatment.

To learn more about the NCI’s physical sciences in oncology initiatives, visit


  1. Xie Q, Mittal S, Berens ME. Targeting glioblastoma: an overview of proliferation and invasion. Neuro Oncol. 2014; 16(12): 1575-1584.
  2. Soyeun P. Nano-mechanical phenotype as a promising biomarker to evaluate cancer development, progression, and anti-cancer drug efficacy. J Cancer Prev. 2016; 21(2): 73-80.
  3. Chan CE, Odde DJ. Traction dynamics of filopodia on compliant substrates. Science. 2008; 322(5908): 1687-1691.

When to refer

The neuro-oncology team with University of Minnesota Health Cancer Care offers comprehensive diagnosis and treatment for patients with any type of brain or spinal cord cancer. Noncancerous growths are also treated by our team, as even benign growths in the brain or spinal cord can cause serious health problems.

We provide timely diagnosis and treatment for all patients. Tumor patients with active symptoms that involve problems with speech and movement are given the highest priority for immediate treatment.

To view clinical trials available through University of Minnesota Health Cancer Care, visit

Multidisciplinary, Collaborative Care

Our neuro-oncology care team collaborates with a multidisciplinary group of consulting clinicians to provide conventional and leading-edge chemotherapy, targeted radiation therapy, and surgical intervention for treating a broad spectrum of brain and spinal tumors. Patients have access to our network of primary oncologists, neurologists, neurosurgeons, immunologists, and radiation oncologists. We also maintain close collaboration with genetic counselors for patients with inherited tumor syndromes such as neurofibromatosis, and with psychologists who help treat patients with brain tumors that impact speech and movement.

We always work with the referring provider in a joint effort to extend communication and support to the patient and their family. Our goal is to create a healthy future for each patient by providing expert care from diagnosis through follow-up treatment.

Physician Outreach Program

To schedule a physician meeting or to visit our facility, contact Melinda Tuma, System Manager, Outreach Services: 612-867-3411;

Related Articles

September 2016

Awake Craniotomy with Speech Mapping Allows Patient to Return to Work

Intraoperative mapping of patient’s brain enables resection of a large, infiltrative tumor while preserving the patient’s speech function.

Continue reading

September 2016

Cancer Care Specialty Updates

Clinical trials evaluate drug therapies in the treatment of embryonal or germ cell tumors, and a neuro-oncologist joins the specialty team.

Continue reading