Translational Research in the Department of Molecular Medicine

Eva Galanis, M.D.

Eva Galanis, M.D.

In mid-July, 2009, Eva Galanis, M.D., a professor of oncology, became the second person to lead the Department of Molecular Medicine. Dr. Galanis succeeds Stephen Russell, M.D., Ph.D., who came to Mayo Clinic from Cambridge University in 1998 to establish the Gene and Virus Therapy Program, which eventually led to the Gene and Virus Therapy Ph.D. track at Mayo Graduate School, and the creation of the Department of Molecular Medicine.

As the chair of Molecular Medicine, Dr. Galanis leads a multidisciplinary team of scientists and physicians whose work covers the entire translational spectrum. Basic science discoveries in virology, cell biology, genomics, and immunology lead to testing of these novel concepts in clinical trials, such as trials of oncolytic virus therapy (the use of modified viruses to kill tumors). Core facilities such as the Viral Vector Production Laboratory and the Molecular Medicine Toxicology Core manufacture clinical-grade engineered viruses and perform preclinical toxicology and biodistribution studies to support the department's clinical trials.

"The wide range of disciplines represented by our staff facilitates the breadth of our translational activities," says Dr. Galanis. "We are in the unique position of being able to move a basic science discovery all the way through to clinical trials and the development of novel therapies, all within our own department and in an expedited fashion. For instance, instead of the standard five- to seven-year industry timeframe, we moved our attenuated measles virus therapy for ovarian cancer from discovery to clinical trials within three years. This integrated process allows us to truly advance the science and quickly deliver the new treatments our patients are waiting for."

While the Department of Molecular Medicine is known today for its novel approaches to treating certain cancers such as ovarian, multiple myeloma and glioblastoma multiforme, Dr. Galanis would like to expand the department's reach into other cancers and non-cancer indications, as well as broaden the depth and breadth of its collaborations. Working with University of Minnesota researchers through the Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics, research has begun on viral oncolytic therapy for mesothelioma, a particularly deadly form of pleural cavity cancer, and a clinical trial is soon to be activated. Integration with molecular medicine research at Mayo Clinic Arizona and Florida is also a priority. A new collaboration with Mayo Clinic Arizona supports research into virus therapy for hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer). On the horizon, in collaboration with researchers in cardiology, endocrinology and neurology, Dr. Galanis sees the department expanding its research to include the use of iPS cells (adult stem cells engineered to differentiate into many types of cells) for tissue regeneration that could repair heart injury or treat diabetes. Another initiative focuses on use of gene therapy to treat chronic pain.

Ask Dr. Galanis what motivates her and her team, and the response is quick and sure. "Our patients are our inspiration," she says. "Every day that we see patients in the clinic or hospital, we are confronted with clinical problems we can't solve. It is these issues that guide the direction of our research. All of us in Molecular Medicine are passionate about understanding the mechanisms that drive disease, and using this information in order to rationally design novel viral and cell-based therapeutic approaches. The ultimate goal of our research is to rapidly translate basic science discovery to the clinic and make an impact on patient outcomes."