Posted on 09/20/2022

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — WVU Medicine is launching a virtual support group for West Virginians struggling with brain tumors with a $15,000 grant from the nonprofit Gladiator Brain Cancer Project.

Leslie and Eric South

The grant awarded to the WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute (RNI) will provide digital tablets and other resources to 20 patients diagnosed with glioma, a type of tumor that originates in glial cells in the brain and spinal cord. The goal is to connect and engage glioma patients in Mountain State, where there are currently no support groups registered with the American Brain Tumor Association.

Christopher P. Cifarelli, MD, Ph.D., MMM, director of the WVU Cancer Institute Gamma Knife program and neurosurgeon at RNI, said access to brain tumor-specific support groups is limited in West Virginia by the scarcity diagnosis and the rural region of the state. setting. He noted that virtual support groups are growing due to the increased use of telehealth and other virtual meeting tools in conjunction with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are extremely grateful for this generous award from the Gladiator Project,” said Dr. Cifarelli. “Given the rare nature of primary brain tumors and the complex landscape of multidisciplinary care that continues throughout a patient’s care, access to a patient-centered support group has the potential to improve quality of life for patients and caregivers. Sharing experiences around difficult health issues has been shown to decrease anxiety and increase patient comfort levels.

According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 20,000 cases of glioma are diagnosed each year in the United States. About 12,000 of these patients are diagnosed with glioblastoma, a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer that is often fatal.

Gladiator Project is a non-profit organization founded by Eric South, a native of West Virginia and a WVU graduate, and his wife, Leslie, in Nashville, Tennessee. Since discovering he had glioblastoma in early 2021, South has had two surgeries and participated in clinical trials at the University of Texas at Houston MD Anderson Cancer Center and the University of California. in Los Angeles. He continues to receive treatment at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Gladiator Project strives to raise funds for brain cancer research and help patients and their families fight the disease “like gladiators.”

“As the son of a coal miner who grew up in the rural hills of West Virginia, I am incredibly proud of the efforts of Gladiator Project and our Board of Directors to support such a valuable program to provide access to healthcare and a patient support network for those with a brain tumor diagnosis,” South said.

Patients interested in RNI’s Neuro-Oncology Virtual Support Group must be 18 years of age, treated for a high-grade glioma by WVU Medicine, attend at least one virtual support group activity every three months, and maintain the tablet for informational purposes only with respect to brain tumor treatment and patient support activities.

The WVU Cancer Institute previously created a private Facebook support group, called Living Beyond Cancer, open to patients and/or caregivers battling any type of cancer. A podcast and professional web course are also available to provide support through the Living Beyond Cancer program.

The Gladiator Project grant was awarded through the WVU Foundation, the nonprofit organization that receives and manages private donations on behalf of the University and its affiliated entities.