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Pituitary tumors that invade bone, brain to be focus of USC research

National Institutes of Health will back USC’s research of little-studied tumors — the results could provide potential targets for precise treatment

Gabriel Zada pituitary research
Gabriel Zada received funding to study tumors of the pituitary gland. (Photo/Chris Shinn)

Gabriel Zada, a neurosurgeon at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, has received a $2.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to research pituitary adenomas, which are commonly occurring yet little-studied tumors arising from the pituitary gland.

Zada’s investigation will focus on understanding how genes in the tumors are regulated to express proteins, which prompt a range of physiological and hormonal outcomes. Such an understanding could provide potential targets for precision treatment.

Approximately 10,000 pituitary tumors are diagnosed each year in the United States. Arising from a pea-sized gland at the base of the brain, most are slow-growing and benign. However, roughly 30 percent of diagnosed pituitary tumors that require treatment behave aggressively, invading bone and brain, stealing vision and wreaking havoc on hormone levels.

“The issue is, they aren’t always curable. That’s because they tend to grow into and invade surrounding tissue, where they cannot be surgically removed,” said Zada, an associate professor of neurosurgery, otolaryngology and internal medicine. “They can reduce patients’ survival and cause a lot of problems with vision and quality of life. They are sly tumors.”

Zada’s grant is a Research Project Grant (R01 CA230328-01), which supports a scientist’s specific project, based on the mission of the NIH. Zada’s project will be based at USC’s Pituitary Center, and will involve surgeons, geneticists, radiologists and endocrinologists across five institutions who will collect and analyze tissue.

The other institutions include Emory University, Washington University in St. Louis, Harvard Medical School and the Barrow Neurological Institute in Arizona.

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