Cutting-edge brain science comes to Seattle

Swedish opens a brain cancer center that works like a university, and looks like a spa.
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A tumor's genomic profile.

Swedish opens a brain cancer center that works like a university, and looks like a spa.

Brain cancer research and treatment are usually found together only in academic environments. But Swedish Hospital's new Center for Advanced Brain Tumor Treatment (CABTT) melds the two in a non-academic setting. CABTT promotes a symbiosis between research and patient care, where the latest advances are incorporated into a patient's treatment, and the outcomes inform the next round of research questions.

A brain cancer diagnosis is a grim reality for about 200,000 people in the United States each year, including the well-known case of Senator Ted Kennedy. As far as cancers go, it is rare, but exceptionally difficult to treat: What works for one patient doesn't help another.

For some, this difference can be tracked down to the genes within renegade cells multiplying within the tumor. For example, tumors containing a gene called MGMT that is turned off are susceptible to a particular chemotherapy drug; whereas, the tumors with the gene turned on don't respond. Researchers at CABTT and elsewhere are now sifting through data on thousands of genes to look for similar patterns that may predict whether or not a treatment will work. This allows physicians to design specific treatments for specific patients, the likely future for all cancer treatment. CABTT offers this kind of genomic profiling for every one of its patients.

Also in its bandolier of technology, CABTT has a Cyberknife, a Star Trek-like device that non-invasively removes tumors through radiation, and access to an atom-counting particle accelerator run by Accium Biosciences that can tell whether chemotherapy is reaching a tumor in the first place.

All of these facilities are steps away from the main waiting room, which saves time, something brain cancer patients are short of: Those with malignant brain cancer are expected to live only one to two years. With this in mind, CABTT offers all services under one roof. Rather than spending weeks visiting different specialists in different places, a patient at the new center remains in one room, while the panoply of doctors — surgeons, neurologists, oncologists, radiologists — come to them. "Administrative changes like these can improve survival," says Dr. Greg Foltz, CABTT's director.

And the CABTT design emphasizes comfort and privacy in a meditative atmosphere. "They need more than a bus stop experience," Foltz says about his patients. Patient rooms large enough to accommodate a family, a separate entrance into and exit from the waiting room (who wants to look people in the eye after receiving bad news?), muted lighting, and warm colors are some of the touches devised to smooth the rocky road of brain cancer treatment. This encourages the patient to become fully engaged in treatment decisions and to participate in research, says Foltz. This is key because the link between patients and research is definitely a two-way street.


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