News Release
donald o rourke head shot
Donald M. O’Rourke, MD

PHILADELPHIA — Today, Penn Medicine is announcing the newest Translational Center of Excellence (TCE) in the Abramson Cancer Center, focused on Glioblastoma Multiforme, the most common and lethal form of brain cancer. The team will investigate new immune therapies for glioblastoma and, in particular, design and test new CAR T cell therapies. This involves engineering patients’ T cells (the cells that act on behalf of the immune system) to attack tumor cells. The world’s first gene-based cancer therapy, immunotherapy – or CAR T cell therapy – was pioneered at Penn Medicine, and it became the nation’s first FDA-approved personalized cellular therapy for cancer in August 2017.

Roughly 15,000 people are diagnosed with glioblastoma each year, with a median survival rate of only 15 months. Recently, and most notably, Senator John McCain died 13 months after his glioblastoma diagnosis. Penn Medicine is on the frontlines in the fight against brain tumors like glioblastoma, with the Penn Brain Tumor Center performing the most brain tumor surgeries in Pennsylvania.

m sean grady head shot
M. Sean Grady, MD

“Penn Medicine is at the cutting-edge of research and clinical care for patients with glioblastoma, and our TCE will help accelerate this mission-critical work,” said Donald M. O’Rourke, MD, John Templeton, Jr., MD Associate Professor in Neurosurgery in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “Immunotherapy is a game-changer for aggressive forms of cancer and Penn is the only institution in the United States researching this kind of combined CAR-T and checkpoint inhibitor therapy for glioblastoma right now.”

The TCE, a partnership of the Abramson Cancer Center and the department of Neurosurgery, is led by O’Rourke, and brings together multidisciplinary teams across Penn, including investigators from Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Systems Pharmacology and Translational Medicine, Medicine, Neurosurgery, Radiation Oncology, and Medicine and Pathobiology at the School of Veterinary Medicine.

In addition to novel treatment options like immunotherapy, the Abramson Cancer Center and Penn Brain Tumor Center have a full arsenal of medical and surgical approaches for treating glioblastoma. These include more traditional methods such as radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgical resection, as well as new innovations such as TumorGlow and proton therapy.

“The real cutting-edge breakthroughs are coming from immunotherapy,” said M. Sean Grady, MD, chairman of the department of Neurosurgery. “Getting to a cure is going to be difficult, there is no way around that. However, in the 32 years I have been a neurosurgeon, this is the first time I’ve thought ‘yes, we can actually beat brain cancer.’”


Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $7.8 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top medical schools in the United States for more than 20 years, according to U.S. News & World Report’s survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation’s top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $405 million awarded in the 2017 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center — which are recognized as one of the nation’s top “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report — Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Medicine Princeton Health; Penn Wissahickon Hospice; and Pennsylvania Hospital – the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional affiliated inpatient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a partnership between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, a leading provider of highly skilled and compassionate behavioral healthcare.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2017, Penn Medicine provided $500 million to benefit our community.

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