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Nationally Recognized Brain Tumor Expert Joins Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Waldemar Debinski, M.D., Ph.D., a nationally recognized physician-scientist who pioneered a method to destroy malignant brain tumor cells without harming healthy cells, has joined Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center as director of its new Brain Tumor Center of Excellence.

Debinski, who comes to Wake Forest Baptist from Penn State University, will head the Section on Tumor Biology in the Department of Neurosurgery; he will hold the rank of professor in several disciplines.

Charles L. Branch, M.D., professor and chairman of Neurosurgery, and Edward G. Shaw, M.D., professor and chairman of Radiation Oncology, said that Debinski’s recruitment is of vital importance to Wake Forest Baptist.

“It moves us from a regional to a national/international brain tumor program,” Shaw said.

The Brain Tumor Center of Excellence, which is part of Wake Forest Baptist’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, was officially designated last year. The center combines the strengths of multiple departments, including Neurosurgery, Radiation Oncology, Medical Oncology, and Cancer Biology.

After his arrival, Debinski, who is bringing several members of his team, will recruit additional faculty.

“My role as director will be to bring the valuable expertise in brain tumor research and related disciplines together with a highly collaborative group of people to improve significantly the outcome of patients with brain tumors,” Debinski said.

Among the most prevalent and difficult to manage forms of human brain tumors are glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). About 10 years ago, Debinski created a combined protein composed of interleukin 13 (IL13), a protein that regulates the immune system in the body, and a bacterial toxin. Later he found that a specific receptor in brain tumor cells accepts the combined protein, or cytotoxin, that leads to killing GBM cells with relative safety to normal cells.

In 2002, the first generation of IL 13-based cytotoxins, which were generated in his laboratory, received Fast Track Drug status from the Food and Drug Administration.

In addition to furthering his search for specific cytotoxins, Debinski will continue numerous other projects, including his work on anti-cancer vaccines, as well as several novel and experimental therapies for brain tumors that may also be useful in treating asthma.

Debinski has published more than 200 scientific reports, including more than 80 papers in peer-reviewed journals. Grants from the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, private foundations and industry have supported his research.

A prolific inventor, Debinski has eight patents, all for inventions related to his research. He received a prestigious Annual Award for Excellence in Basic Research from the Society for Neuro-Oncology for his outstanding work on brain tumors.

Debinski completed his medical training and internship from the Warsaw Medical School in Poland in 1983. Six years later, he received his Ph.D. from the Division of Experimental Medicine at McGill University before working as a guest researcher at the National Cancer Institute’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology.

After serving as the director of the Laboratory of Molecular Targeting at the University of Montreal, Debinski became director of Tumor Research in the Division of Neurosurgery at Penn State in 1994. In 2003, he became vice chair for neurosurgical research in the newly created Department of Neurosurgery.

The Comprehensive Cancer Center of Wake Forest University is a national leader in cancer care and research. Ranked among the best treatment centers in the country by U.S. News and World Report, it is one of only 38 cancer centers in the nation designated by the National Cancer Institute as a Comprehensive Cancer Center, and the only one in western North Carolina.

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Media Contacts: Jonnie Rohrer, jrohrer@wfubmc.edu or Shannon Koontz, shkoontz@wfubmc.edu, at 336-716-4587.

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