Just more than one year after a $10 million gift from the Lillian S. Wells Foundation Inc. to the University of Florida department of neurosurgery, the international search for a leader and a team focused on brain tumor research has come to an end. Duane Mitchell, M.D., Ph.D., and his team of five researchers have joined the Preston A. Wells Jr. Center for Brain Tumor Therapy at UF.
“Duane Mitchell brings world-class expertise in the use of immunotherapy to treat malignant brain tumors. He is the principal investigator on seven first-in-human protocols,” said William Friedman, M.D., neurosurgery department chair and the center’s co-director. Mitchell and his team, who arrived on July 1, round out the comprehensive brain tumor program by providing this unique treatment through FDA-approved clinical trials for the people of Florida and the world.
Immunotherapy uses the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells in a general way or by training the immune system to attack specific cancer cells. The idea of using the immune system to treat cancer dates back more than 100 years, but Mitchell and his team are encouraged by the promising results they have seen in their clinical trials and in the immunologic treatments of other cancers.
“For some cancers, such as advanced and metastatic melanoma, we are seeing for the first time significant and durable clinical responses in a large proportion of patients who have failed multiple other treatment regimens, through the effective generation of an immunologic attack against their own cancer cells,” Mitchell said.
And while the ultimate goal is for immunotherapy to be used in place of more toxic treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy, Mitchell says that in the near future he hopes to see improvements in patient outcomes by approaching brain tumor treatment in combination and in synchronization with current standard treatments.
UF Health Neurosurgery is the only place in the state that offers this treatment and conducts immunotherapy research, Friedman said.
Mitchell, who was associate director of Duke University’s brain tumor immunotherapy program, will serve as an associate professor for the department of neurosurgery, director of the UF Brain Tumor Immunotherapy Program and co-director of the Preston A. Wells Jr. Center for Brain Tumor Therapy at UF. This addition to the brain tumor program at UF was made possible by the Wells Foundation gift, combined with matching funds from other university sources, totaling $20 million dedicated to brain tumor treatment and research.