Advances In Neuro-Oncology at Aurora

How the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation supports neurological cancer treatment and research



 Victor Levin, MD,and Aurora Health Care's George Bobustuc, MD, discuss the ever-changing field of neauro-oncology.

These days, it’s hard to find someone whose life has not been touched by cancer – a friend, a family member or their own. Neurological cancers can be especially difficult to treat. Fortunately, with innovative advances in neuro-oncology treatment, the experts at Aurora Health Care and their supporters at the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation are helping to heal those affected by this deadly disease.

Since 1971, the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation has raised more than $16 million to help fight cancer. The organization’s sole purpose is to fund leading-edge cancer research and compassionate care at the Vince Lombardi Cancer Clinic sites at Aurora Health Care facilities located throughout eastern WIsconsin.

“We are a volunteer organization with three permanent staff members,” says foundation Executive Director Judith McGauran. “We rely on hundreds of wonderful volunteers to make our events successful.”

“All of our funds stay in Wisconsin,” McGauran notes. Because there are 13 Vince Lombardi Cancer Clinics throughout the state, the foundation serves the local communities, as well as many patients who travel from out of state in search of excellent cancer care.

Funds are raised through five events each year: The Lombardi Award of Excellence Dinner Ball, The Lombardi Walk/Run for Cancer, a Lombardi Legend Dinner, the Lombardi Food and Wine Experience, and the event that started it all – the Vince Lombardi Golf Classic.

McGauran explains that this golf event started as a small golf tournament in memory of legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, who passed away in 1970 from colon cancer. Former Packers player Bart Starr and his wife, Cherry, have been honorary chairs of the foundation for the past 43 years.

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Help further cancer care and research in the state of Wisconsin by making a donation to the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation.

Cancer is, by nature, a mutation. This makes it difficult to treat in a one-size-fits-all fashion, especially when cancer spreads from one part of the body to a critical structure, like the nervous system or brain. But due to advances in technology and customized cancer care, Aurora Health Care’s cancer services are able to better treat each case individually – increasing the chance of better outcomes.

“Patients come to us because basic translational research guided them to Aurora,” says George Bobustuc, MD, medical director of Aurora’s neuro-oncology program.

Translational research is a way of taking research from the laboratory to medical or “real-life” applications. Or simply put, “From lab bench to patient bedside.”

Ideas are taken from the laboratory, put first into clinical trials, and then into point-of-care patient settings, such as doctors’ offices.

Through translational research, scientific knowledge found in a laboratory, a clinic, or a specific study can be made appropriate for a clinical application. Innovations found via translational research can help reduce cancers – and even death.

Victor Levin, MD, a consultant with Aurora’s neuro-oncology department, and considered by many to be the father of neuro-oncology, is responsible for some of the earliest translational research on neurological cancer. Dr. Levin says that in the past decade there have been great developments to “better treat tumors of the nervous system.” He notes that when tumors metastasize, they change from the original form. But by gaining a deeper understanding of patterns, genetics and molecular markers, doctors can better treat individual tumors.

"I’m hopeful that this application will bear fruit in the years to come,” Dr. Levin says. “This is truly personalized medicine.”

Dr. Levin was an early mentor to Dr. Bobustuc. Both work closely with Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation.

“Dr. Bobubstuc is testing applications based on genetic patterns, molecular markers, with the goal being to control the tumor,” Dr. Levin explains.

Much of the foundation’s funding goes toward this innovative cancer research. “Aurora leadership has kept it very true to its purpose,” Dr. Bobustuc says. This targeted research has led to methods to individualize and personalize treatment. New drug combinations are used to better treat an individual patient’s unique cancer.

“In the last decade we’ve discovered new, better therapies,” notes Dr. Bobustuc. These personalized therapies allow patients to live longer lives.

Aurora's Neuro-Oncology Experts In Action
 

The Father of Neuro-Oncology, Victor Levin, MDOne Aurora patient, recently honored at a breakfast held by the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation, can attest to the effectiveness of personalized therapy.

The patient had been having headaches for three weeks and had noticed a breast lump several months earlier. It turned out that the patient had breast cancer that had metastasized and reached her brain.

“Cancer will spread where it finds fertile soil,” Dr. Bobustuc explains. He ordered an MRI of her brain and met with other neurosurgeons to look at and discuss their findings.

“It was a very complex case,” he says. “It needed individual options.” This means individualized medicine – anchored in scientific research. It is the customized cancer care offered by the Vince Lombardi Cancer Clinic.

Vince Lombardi Cancer Clinic doctors were able to customize a drug treatment, in combination with radiotheraphy, to battle her cancer, manage risk to surrounding tissues and allow her to live better, longer. After discussions with surgeons and her family, the patient decided to go ahead with the specialized treatment the doctors planned.

“We treated her in a totally different way than what was standard,”Dr. Bobustuc says, noting that if she had been treated with the current standard of care, she would have likely had a life expectancy of only six months.

Today, the patient “is alive and well,” says Dr. Bobustuc, thanks to the innovative cancer care team and new methods of treating cancer using what Dr. Bobustuc calls a “unified approach.”

A Unified Approach to Neurological Cancer Care
 

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This unified approach encompasses each patient’s unique and total well-being. “Aurora has created a lot of momentum,” says Dr. Bobustuc. The team includes board-certified oncologists, hematologists and registered nurses certified in oncology. To help patients cope with social and emotional concerns, the staff also includes counselors, nutritionists, social workers, home health nurses, pharmacists, physical therapists and psychologists. The cancer care team works in conjunction with your primary care physician, as well as the specialists at Aurora St. Luke's Regional Cancer Center.

It’s all a part of the community that the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation has created. Perhaps this is no more apparent than at the annual Vince Lombardi Walk/Run for Cancer. Now in its 26th year, the event has more than 4,000 participants – many of whom have been touched by cancer in some way.

“It’s truly an event from the heart,” says McGauran. “So many walk in honor or memory of a loved one, colleague or friend.” She also notes that the event is an easy way for the community to participate. The event is held at Milwaukee County Zoo, and walkers and runners can spend the day with their families enjoying the zoo. Participants develop a wonderful sense of community, knowing they are helping to change lives with every step.

“The Lombardi name is synonymous with excellence,” McGauran notes. This is true of the foundation and members of the community that help support its mission. Together, everyone can make a difference in the fight against cancer.

Learn more about Aurora Health Care's cutting edge neuro-oncology research and treatment. If you or someone you love has been touched by neurological cancer, please consider making a donation to the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation.