Alumnus on the Vanguard of Brain Research

Honors College Alumnus Ali Alam, who is attending Texas A&M Medical School, has been spending his summers studying brain cancer under the tutelage of Dr. Amy Heimberger, Professor of Neurosurgery, at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Ali recently co-authored an article with Dr. Greg Fuller, Chief of Neuropathology at M.D. Anderson, concerning his research on alterative therapeutic options for treating brain tumors. The article will be published in the Journal of Neuro Oncology within the year, and Ali is presenting his findings at the American Association of Neurological Surgeons Annual Meeting this spring in New Orleans.

His research concerns a rare form of neuroglia cell brain cancer called a subependymoma. He and Professor Heimberger have been on a quest to discover what could inhibit this particular brain tumor in hopes of discovering treatments for this and more common brain cancers.

Using various media, their first discovery was how to sustain subependymoma tumor cells in vitro (outside the body). Achieving this is the first step in applying flow cytokine array, tissue micro array, immunohistochemistry and other tests in determining cancer cell susceptibility to various substances.

The most promising discovery in understanding the tumor cell biology is that subependymoma cells express an appreciable amount of nucleolin and other factors, known as cytokines, that could lead to novel noninvasive immunotherapeutic treatment. In other words, brain tumor cancer vaccines may result from these new discoveries.

Ali talks about the exciting possibilities involved in personalized medicine that are just now being explored. From ‘bedside to bench’ is how he describes the ability to take a small sample of tissue, and by using computation, discover precisely what the patient’s problem is and how it can best be treated.

Ali expects to receive his M.D. from Texas A&M Health Science Center Medical School in 2016, and hopes to continue his career as a physician researcher in order to develop new therapies to help patients with neurological cancers.

Ali Alam with Dr. Amy Heimberger
Ali Alam with Dr. Amy Heimberger in her M. D. Anderson Cancer Center Laboratory in Houston.

From Veneratio, Winter 2012