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The Business of Giving

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October 24, 2009 at 12:22 PM

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Brain cancer mapping project launches with Swedish Neuroscience and Allen Institute

Posted by Kristi Heim

Catherine Ivy lost her husband, Ben, to brain cancer just four months after he was diagnosed.

Now a unique project funded by the couple's foundation is bringing Seattle's technology expertise to bear on the problem to help scientists better understand how to fight it.

The Center for Advanced Brain Tumor Treatment at Swedish Medical Center and the Allen Institute for Brain Science are teaming up to work on the new $4.4 million Ivy Glioblastoma Atlas Project. Initial funding comes from the Ben and Catherine Ivy Foundation, based in Palo Alto, Ca.

Glioblastoma multiforme is the most common type of brain tumor, and also one of the most malignant forms of cancer, fast spreading, difficult to remove or treat and almost always fatal. Ben Ivy, a native of Everett, passed away from glioblastoma in 2005, and the cancer claimed the life of U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy in August.


Dr. Greg Foltz peers into a magnifier during surgery recently to remove a patient's brain tumor at Swedish Medical Center Cherry Hill.

Dr. Greg Foltz, a scientist and surgeon with the Swedish Neuroscience Institute, heads the Ivy Foundation project. Foltz is working with a coalition of local research centers and biotech firms to apply cutting-edge tools to treat patients and fight the disease.

Foltz and his colleagues genetically map each patient's tumor and examine its genes to determine their pattern, as this profile describes. The Allen Institute, funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, provides genetic maps of healthy brain tissue for comparison. The genetic information can help Foltz predict how the cancer will behave and respond to various treatments and extend the lives of his patients.

Previously published brain cancer gene data has contained anatomic information from whole tumor samples, but little or no information about the gene activity.

For the atlas project, tumor tissue samples will be collected at Swedish and then sent to the Allen Institute for studying the target genes. Very thin strips will be digitally photographed and the cells and genes plotted on a 3-D map.

Research on the atlas project is scheduled to be completed in 2013. The information it produces will be made available online for free use by medical and scientific communities around the world.

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