Eva Galanis, M.D.

Photo of Eva Galanis, M.D.

"The CTSA provides a venue for new directions in molecular medicine and offers unique resources that support this complex type of research."

Fighting cancer using gene and virus therapies

Eva Galanis, M.D., an oncologist and chair of the Mayo Clinic Department of Molecular Medicine, knows first-hand the benefits of rapid translation. She was part of a team that pioneered the use of the measles virus to attack ovarian cancer; this therapy moved out of the lab and into clinical trials in just three years. By comparison, it takes at least five to ten years before most laboratory discoveries can reach — and potentially benefit — patients.

With support from the Mayo Clinic CTSA and the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, Dr. Galanis' research focuses on developing gene, virus and cell therapies to treat cancer. In addition to ovarian cancer, targets for these molecular therapies include other cancers such as brain tumors, breast cancer, prostate cancer, melanoma and sarcoma.

From the lab to patient care

Such robust translational research in the field of molecular medicine has made Mayo Clinic's clinical gene and virus therapy program — which makes gene- and virus-based molecular therapies available as treatment options for cancer patients — one of the largest in the world, says Dr. Galanis. One major platform for this gene/virus therapy research is Mayo Clinic's CTSA.

"The CTSA provides a venue for new directions in molecular medicine and offers unique resources that support this complex type of research," says Dr. Galanis. "This infrastructure lets us move promising novel therapeutics from the lab to the clinic in a manner that is expeditious, yet safe."

Utilizing CRU resources

The Department of Molecular Medicine provided input as the outpatient (Charlton) Clinical Research Unit (CRU) was being planned and built, says Dr. Galanis. Because of this, the CTSA's Charlton CRU has facilities — such as negative air flow isolation rooms — that meet the unique needs of gene/virus therapy researchers as they work with research participants.

Dr. Galanis and her study team also rely on the Mobile CRU, which enables patient-oriented research to be conducted beyond the walls of the inpatient or outpatient CRUs. "This allows cutting-edge research to be conducted within Mayo's two hospitals," says Dr. Galanis.

For example, she says that novel agents sometimes need to be administered in the operating room during neurosurgical procedures. Assistance from specially trained Mobile CRU research nurses means in-hospital research goes smoothly, while also ensuring that hospital nursing staff can continue to focus on providing patient care.

Looking ahead

Individualized medicine is one of Mayo Clinic's overall research priorities, and individualized gene and virus therapy is a goal of Dr. Galanis and her colleagues. For a given type of cancer — and taking into account the tumor's molecular make-up — what is the right type of gene or virus therapy to deliver?

Finding answers will require multidisciplinary efforts from across the translational research spectrum — from basic scientists and clinician-investigators to epidemiologists and bioinformatics experts. "The CTSA makes it feasible for us to bridge laboratory discovery with clinical need, and allows us to translate basic research advances into better treatments for our patients," says Dr. Galanis.

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