Columbia Neurosurgery Wins 1st Annual Gladiator Project Award for Brain Cancer Research

A Breakthrough Ten Years in the Making

May 2, 2023

A road almost ten years in the making, our Neuro-Oncology team has recently made some tremendous strides in their brain tumor research efforts.  The work of neurosurgeons including Dr. Jeffrey BruceDr. Brian GillDr. Eleonora SpinazziDr. Matei BanuDr. Pavan Upadhyayula and Dr. Michael Argenziano was combined with expertise of Neuropathologist, Dr. Peter Canoll, Asst. Professor in Radiology Dr. Jack Grinband and Associate Professor in Systems Biology and Cancer Genomics Expert, Dr. Peter Sims. This multidisciplinary team has just won the “Gladiator Project Award” for an abstract accepted to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) Annual Meeting entitled “Unique Tissue-based Analysis Following Convection-enhanced Delivery of Topotecan Reveals Individualized Mechanisms of Response and Resistance.”

Building on Recent Breakthroughs

The work builds on Dr. Bruce’s seminal 2022 paper published in The Lancet Oncology, “Chronic convection-enhanced delivery of topotecan for patients with recurrent glioblastoma: a first-in-patient, single-centre, single-arm, phase 1b trial,” This study was a first-in-human clinical trial for patients with recurrent

glioblastoma, a highly malignant brain tumor. In this unique trial, patients were treated with a surgically implanted pump that safely delivered high doses of chemotherapy directly to their brain tumors. Additionally, each patient in the trial had their tumors biopsied before and after the chemotherapy to better understand the effects of the treatment at a patient-specific level.

The award-winning abstract expands on this trial, by performing a more comprehensive and sophisticated tissue analysis of these patient biopsies. The analysis demonstrated that the chemotherapy effectively killed rapidly-dividing brain tumor cells in all patients. Furthermore, the tissue analysis allowed the team to understand and study the tumor cells that were resistant, or left behind, after the treatment. This new lens to study patient heterogeneity and response to therapy has critical implications for the future of brain tumor treatment.  Dr. Bruce stated, “The results of this trial represent a significant advance towards finding an effective treatment for this deadly disease. This study is the culmination of the efforts from a talented multidisciplinary team that created not only a novel treatment but an innovative method for analyzing treatment results in patients with malignant brain tumors.”

Dr. Brian Gill added, “This is fantastic work and considerable effort went into the design and analysis of this study. The use of serial biopsies to evaluate the tumor response to local therapy truly is a groundbreaking and dynamic approach to this disease. ”

The Gladiator Project Award

The “Gladiator Project Award” is “given to a high scoring translational abstract on adult glioblastoma by a medical student, resident, fellow or attending

physician,” on the behalf of the AANS/CNS Joint Tumor Section.  Based out of Nashville, Gladiator Project was founded by Eric South, a brain tumor survivor, to provide support and funding for brain tumor patients and their families to “fight like gladiators.” After review of over 1,400 abstract submissions for the conference, the team’s project was selected as the winner of the award.  Mr. South said of the project, ”We are delighted about the team’s exciting research, and we are thankful for the efforts of the experts of the AANS/CNS Joint Tumor Section in this important process.”

Dr. Michael Argenziano traveled to the 2023 AANS Annual Conference where he gave a podium presentation to the world’s leaders in neurosurgery showcasing the innovative research’s findings and its potential directions for the treatment of brain tumors in the future.

Columbia’s Collaboration of Innovators

Few places in the world allow a team of neurosurgeons to partner with neuropathology, radiology and bioinformatics experts to bring patient biopsies directly

Dr. Michael Argenziano presenting at the 2023 AANS Conference

from the operating room across the street to the lab for comprehensive tissue analysis.  Dr. Argenziano, who originally became interested in Neurosurgery as a result working with Dr. Bruce’s team when he was a medical student stated, “It was so exciting to work with such a collaborative, multidisciplinary team at the intersection of patient care and cutting-edge translational research to improve the care of current and future patients. At a place like Columbia, we are able to run paradigm-shifting clinical trials for brain tumor patients through support and collaborations with experts in all facets of the disease.”

For more information on Gladiator Project, please visit: