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Beau Adams, a graduate student in Northern Michigan University’s biology department, uses a pipette that can measure and draw extremely small volumes of liquid at UMBTC’s research lab. (Jounral photo by Cecilia Brown)

MARQUETTE Many may be surprised to know cutting edge research on aggressive brain tumors and how to treat them is happening right here in Marquette.

The Upper Michigan Brain Tumor Center, which was founded in 2005 as a collaboration between Northern Michigan University and UP Health System Marquette, is a group of clinicians, researchers and students who work to advance treatment, research, education and advocacy for people affected by brain tumors.

Parallel to these goals, the UMBTC is also able to talent with undergraduate and graduate students, generating new researchers that can potentially help us understand and treat glioblastoma multiforme, said Dr. Robert Belton, research director of the UMBTC and assistant professor of biology at NMU.

There is a desperate need for treatment and research in this area, due to the poor prognosis for patients with GBM, the most common and most aggressive form of cancerous tumor that begins in the brain.

Dr. Sonia Geschwindt, neurosurgeon at UPHS Marquette Brain and Spine Institute and UMBTC member, spoke about the clinical challenges of GBM treatment at a UMBTC presentation to the Northern Coalition for Lifelong Learning earlier this month.

Emily Burghardt,left, a senior at NMU and Veronica Line, a Freshman Fellow at NMU, prepare to centrifuge samples for cell culture at UMBTC’s NMU research lab. (Jounral photo by Cicilia Brown)

When a GBM distinctive shape is detected by MRI, surgery is performed to remove as much GBM tissue as possible, relieve pressure on the individual brain and confirm the diagnosis through tumor sample analysis, Geschwindt said.

However, removing GBMs can be extremely difficult. GBMs tend to have unusual shapes, with finger like projections extending in many directions throughout the brain. Geschwindt noted neurosurgeons, like herself, must carefully remove as much of the tumor as possible, without disturbing portions of the brain that are required for a patient survival and quality of life.

The major goal of GBM removal surgeries is safe removal without affecting function, Geschwindt said.

Moreover, GBMs are typically comprised of many different cell types. Treatments that are effective for one cell type in the tumor may not be effective for another cell type in the same tumor, UMBTC members noted, emphasizing the difficulty of treating a tumor that can act like a target.

However, analyzing samples from a patient GBM can inform healthcare professionals about the best course of action for a given patient, UMBTC members said.

To help health care professionals, UMBTC researchers are working to bring a new technology, the LAMP assay,
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right to the operating suite. The LAMP assay can analyze samples from a patient tumor within a span of minutes, which can allow the surgical team to make a highly informed decision about the best course of treatment almost immediately. Getting this information quickly is a major benefit to both health care professionals and patients, as it can help predict how well a patient will do with a given course of treatment.

are) working with our physician counterparts to create treatments and plans said Rudy Mosca, graduate student and UMBTC researcher. Mosca emphasized his hopes for taking UMBTC research from to bedside to improve the prognosis and quality of life for those with GBM tumors.

UMBTC members noted that the center is able to do work rivaling research done at larger institutions, due to the strength of the collaboration.

A major benefit of the collaboration is the center ability to obtain and study human GBM tumor samples, which are the best samples for scientists to study.

are unique in our ability to get tumor samples, Belton said. we have the ability to get tumors through the Brain and Spine Institute, we have established Institutional Review Board approval to get human samples this is unheard of for a small university, even for large research one institutions, it very difficult to do. helping to advance GBM research and treatment, UMBTC is also developing the next generation of researchers. degrees, five graduate students and seven active undergraduate students, said Belton and LaCrosse.

In addition to these researchers, there are also 35 students also attend regular club meetings, in which UMBTC clinicians, researchers and students critically discuss the latest in GBM research. This is a highly beneficial activity for students who wish to learn how to read, understand and analyze research for careers in science and medicine, Belton said.

The research opportunities at NMU are a major benefit for students. Mosca noted that the opportunity to do this research has given him not only great respect for research and medicine, but also for the individuals the research seeks to help.

Nick Shortreed, now a junior at NMU, shared his experience at UMBTC NCLL presentation earlier this month. Shortreed said he applied to large universities known for their high research activity, but chose NMU because of the Freshman Fellow program, which allowed him to start research on day one of his college career.

Shortreed and others noted the benefits of the unique opportunities for getting hands on research experience at the UMBTC and NMU.

they will get hands on techniques that they wouldn learn otherwise, said Amber LaCrosse, laboratory director at UMBTC. best thing that we do and we offer for the undergrads is when you do go to grad school, if you do research with us, you get to do things that students at bigger schools will never have the opportunity to do.

Beyond research know how, UMBTC is also teaching students how to share what they learned with their communities, like Mosca and Shortreed did at the NCLL presentation.

can be advocates for family, friends, communities, Belton said. are) teaching people not only how to think about the science, but also how to talk about it and explain it to others.

While UMBTC is the result of collaboration between students, faculty and clinicians, the community also plays an integral role, said Belton and LaCrosse. They thank community members and benefactors that have given significant amounts of money to the UMBTC for much of their equipment. Belton and LaCrosse also noted the benefits of working in a community that truly cares deeply,
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crediting the community for their continued support of UMBTC.