Courtesy of Yale Cancer Center

Antonio Omuro will serve as the new chief of neuro-oncology, a division of the Yale Cancer Center that focuses on brain tumor treatment and research, the center announced on Thursday. The appointment will take effect on Dec. 1.

Omuro hails from the University of Miami, where he currently serves as chief of its neuro-oncology division. He has also served as a faculty member and researcher at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

Under Omuro’s leadership, the center’s neuro-oncology division will expand their research initiatives through the recruitment of new faculty and through additional collaborations with researchers and clinicians across disciplines, according to Director of Yale Cancer Center Charles Fuchs.

“We’re poised at the Cancer Center and at Yale in general — given the interest in genetics and immunobiology and frankly neuroscience — to do great things,” said Fuchs. “That’s why we decided to identify a leader for neuro-oncology who could lead not only the clinical operations, but [also] the research efforts and bring together laboratory scientists to define better treatments based on the fundamental understanding of the biology of these diseases.”

Fuchs said that the Yale Cancer Center and Smilow Cancer Hospital study and treat numerous adult and pediatric cancers, as well as blood diseases.

According to Omuro, treating brain cancer poses a unique challenge to both clinicians and researchers because even small changes to the brain can have drastic, unintended side effects.

“You can imagine that a lump in the lung or in the breast probably does not cause many symptoms, but a lump in the brain could mean the difference between walking and not walking, or talking and not talking,” he said. “A small growth can be fatal for the patient.”

Glioblastomas are the most common malignant brain tumors, and patients who develop these tumors — such as the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz — are only expected to live between one and two years, and with poor quality of life, according to Omuro.

Omuro said that developing new interventions to treat brain tumors comes with a set of challenges not seen with other types of cancer. Radiation therapies can help destroy brain tumors; however, even slight overexposure to this therapy can harm healthy brain tissue. Additionally, typical cancer-fighting drugs do not easily penetrate into the brain.

“Brain tumors are very challenging,” Omuro said. “The cancer world is making a lot of progress — there are a lot of new treatments coming up the pipeline all the time — but we have not seen any major breakthrough in glioblastomas in the past several decades.”

But there is hope for developing more effective treatments, he said. Brain lymphomas, for example, were once viewed as incurable. But now, several treatment options for this cancer exist. One of Omuro’s clinical trials used aggressive chemotherapy to treat brain lymphomas, and over 80 percent of his patients lived at least five years post-diagnosis, and with an “excellent quality of life and brain function” after treatment, according to Omuro.

Omuro said that he will work with Yale’s brain tumor researchers to achieve similarly promising results for other forms of brain cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 24,000 new patients will be diagnosed with a brain tumor in the United States this year.

Marisa Peryer | marisa.peryer@yale.edu