In search of . . . therapies for glioblastoma, Alonzo H. Ross, PhD

March 01, 2011

Each Tuesday, the Daily Voice on UMassMedNow features a first-person narrative from a researcher explaining the science behind a recent grant, and the inspiration or impetus behind becoming a scientist at UMass Medical School. If you know of a researcher you’d like to see profiled, send an e-mail


In search of
Alonzo H. Ross, PhD, professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology, talks about the science behind his recent grant:Enhancing glioma chemotherapy by suppressing Notch signaling, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, one year $359,844; recommended for four additional years, $1.4 million

 Alonzo Ross


My lab focuses on how brain tumors form and how they can be treated. Specifically, we’re concentrating on glioblastoma multiforme, which is the highest grade and most aggressive type of brain tumor. Unfortunately, even with treatments such as surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, the prognosis for patients with this tumor is poor. This may be due in part to the fact that some cells within the tumor—cancer stem cells—are more resistant to these therapies, eventually allowing the tumor to recur. In most cases, the tumor mass can be substantially diminished. The problem is that it comes back with vengeance, and is even more resistant and difficult to treat.

My colleagues and I recently identified a double-therapy approach that combines chemotherapy with a targeted therapy to decrease the recurrence of glioblastoma multiforme. In the models we evaluated, we saw that the combination of temozolomide, the chemotherapy drug of choice for glioblastomas, with a Notch inhibitor more effectively reduced tumor growth and recurrence compared to either agent alone. Either drug used individually slowed tumor growth only transiently. 

We have been collaborating with Richard Moser, professor of surgery and radiation oncology at UMMS and chief of neurosurgery at UMass Memorial Medical Center, who has considerable experience in treating glioblastoma patients. Our hope is that this research will lead to clinical trials, which will get us closer to an effective treatment option. 

I have always wanted to be a scientist as I like the puzzle-solving aspect of research as well as the physical process of carrying out experiments. Being at UMass Medical School has been a real boon for our research program. Here we have access to great colleagues and excellent facilities, including RNAi, microscopy, flow cytometry, the tumor bank… the list goes on and on. The research is certainly very exciting, but I also enjoy teaching and interacting with young scientists.  

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