CALL OUT BOX: Endowed chairs and professorships are among the highest forms of recognition provided by a university to a faculty member. These prestigious positions are critical in recruiting, retaining and supporting the work of distinguished faculty. The funding provides the resources needed to take their work to the next level.
Less than 1 percent of neurologists in the country are board-certified in neuro-oncology, a subspecialty that treats patients with cancers of the brain and spinal cord. In Virginia, more than 700 people are affected by primary malignant brain tumors each year, and about 4,000 more face complications from other cancers that have spread to the nervous system.
Mark G. Malkin, M.D., is the only board-certified neuro-oncologist in the Richmond, Virginia, area and one of just three in Virginia. In 2013, he was recruited by VCU from the Medical College of Wisconsin to build from scratch a comprehensive neuro-oncology program at VCU.
Today, that program is thriving. Malkin developed a neuro-oncology program with both clinical and academic elements, enlisting a staff of two more neuro-oncologists, a neuropsychologist and a nurse practitioner. In addition to seeing patients and creating an educational program for medical students, neurology residents and hematology-oncology fellows, Malkin has dedicated much of his time to research.
“Our team is focusing on translational research that takes innovative ideas from bench to bedside,” he says. “We’re able to bring the science that has been developed in the lab and apply it in our own clinical trials.”
In its first year, the team saw 33 patients, with one patient participating in the division’s single clinical trial. This year, Malkin says, the team is on track to see 294 new patients. In 2016, 19 patients participated in nine clinical trials, including a phase I study of the drug dimethyl fumurate used with standard care for glioblastoma, the most common primary malignant brain tumor.
“The initial lab experiments that suggested we explore this possible treatment further were conducted right here at Massey Cancer Center,” Malkin says. In June, he traveled to Chicago to present the results of the trial at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, where 38,000 oncology professionals from around the world gathered to discuss the latest developments in cancer research.
Malkin’s recruitment and successes on campus can be attributed, at least partially, to the William G. Reynolds Jr. Chair in Neuro-Oncology he holds. Reynolds, former vice president of government relations and public affairs at the Reynolds Metals Co. and former member of the MCV Foundation board of trustees, died from a brain tumor in 2003. In 2006, the Richard S. Reynolds Foundation pledged $1 million to support the VCU School of Medicine to establish, in his memory, VCU’s first chair in neuro-oncology.
“We believe that William G. Reynolds Jr. would share our enthusiasm for the pioneering work being done in his memory by Mark Malkin,” says Richard S. Reynolds III, the foundation’s president and cousin of William Reynolds. “We are very excited with his work and know that his achievements will only grow in importance as he continues in that field.”
Until now, the next nearest neuro-oncology specialist was located at the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville, Virginia. Ashlee Loughan, Ph.D., who specializes in neuropsychology on Malkin’s team, says that many of their patients can’t drive because of physical or cognitive side effects of their treatments and depend on family members or friends to get to their appointments.
“So many of our patients have commented on what a relief it is to have more convenient care,” Loughan says. “Our team is committed to doing anything we can to reduce the burden on our patients and their families.”
Malkin says none of this progress would have been possible without the generosity of the Reynolds Foundation. He sees endless opportunity for the program’s continued development. In addition to holding clinics at hospitals in downtown Richmond, Stony Point and South Hill, Malkin is now focusing on increasing the program’s reach into the community by expanding as far as Williamsburg, Virginia, to make expert care even more accessible to patients in need.
This story by Brelyn Powell first appeared in Vol. 11 of Impact, VCU’s quarterly publication that shares stories about how philanthropy makes an impact for students, faculty and programs.