For the first time in its history, Texas-based Rainwater Charitable Foundation has made a gift of more than $2M to support brain tumor research at the U of M. The Foundation’s medical funding typically focuses on neurodegenerative disease research. After reviewing the innovative work of Clark C. Chen, MD, PhD, Professor and Department Head, Department of Neurosurgery, University of Minnesota, the Foundation decided to make this first-of-its-kind gift to the University of Minnesota.

New glioblastoma treatment
The Rainwater Charitable Foundation’s support will further the development of high intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) as a new treatment for glioblastoma, the most common form of adult brain cancer. Despite medical advances over the past 50 years, glioblastoma remains a fatal disease, with few afflicted patients surviving beyond two years.

HIFU is a non-invasive technique that uses non-ionizing ultrasound waves to disrupt tumor tissues. Dr. Chen’s research provided compelling data demonstrating that such treatments in animal models significantly increased immune cell infiltration into glioblastomas and enhanced the effectiveness of immunotherapy, leading to remission in almost 75 percent of the treated animals.

Clark C. Chen, MD, PhD

First human trial
“The goal of the work supported by the Rainwater Foundation is to bring this technology into the clinic, creating a first-in-human trial that aims to recapitulate the tremendous efficacy that we observed in the animal models,” explained Dr. Chen (pictured here). “Because we are at an early stage in the development of this technology, support from philanthropy is essential.”

“Our foundation believes that Dr. Chen’s hypothesis and proposal are potential game changers for the future of immunotherapeutic strategy for solid tumors, and especially brain tumors,” said Amy Rommel, PhD, Rainwater Charitable Foundation Scientific Director. “We take great care in searching for ideas like the one Dr. Chen proposed and are proud to be able to support potential breakthrough discoveries such as his at this early stage.”

Emad Ebbini, PhD

The research brings together the Departments of Neurosurgery and Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Minnesota to explore territories known and unknown. The clinical trial plans to use a HIFU machine invented by Emad Ebbini (pictured here), PhD, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and an internationally recognized expert in ultrasound biophysics.

Laser-like intervention
Dr. Ebbini's lab has been working on methods that would optimize ultrasound transmission through the human skull. “You still get sufficient ultrasound transmission to the desired target even though the bone causes significant attenuation,” he said. “While other ultrasound methods result in heating the skull and surrounding tissue, we have developed ways to create precise lesions within the target volume, which is ideal for Dr. Chen’s application – offering a laser-like intervention without invasive surgery.”

The HIFU device developed by Dr. Ebbini is approved in Europe for treating atherosclerosis; however, use of this machine for glioblastoma treatment is groundbreaking. “What we are proposing has never been done,” noted David Darrow, MD, MPH, U of M Neurosurgery Department Assistant Professor, and the Rockswold-Kaplan Endowed Chair in Neurosurgery at Hennepin Healthcare, who is a co-investigator for this study. He has worked closely with Dr. Ebbini to develop novel clinical applications for HIFU.

Nexus for experts
“We are grateful for the faith that the visionary leadership at the Rainwater Charitable Foundation has in our team and in this innovative approach,” said Dr. Chen. “The Rainwater gift provides a nexus for experts who would not otherwise connect for the betterment of human health. This philanthropic-academic collaboration further leverages the extraordinary research environment at the University of Minnesota. I am optimistic that great things will come out of this collaboration.”

Learn more about the Rainwater Foundation.