A University of Iowa professor has won a $30,000 American Cancer Society grant to study the type of brain tumor that was recently diagnosed in U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy. Mahfoud Assem hopes to improve the diagnosis of the brain tumors known as "diffuse gliomas".

Assem says these type of tumors are always diagnosed very late and the later they’re diagnosed, the worse the prognosis for treatment. He hopes to find some genetic markers that will aid in diagnosis. Assem wants to use what’s been found in other cancer studies to find the genetic link to the brain tumors.

He says it’s know that some genetic markers, such as loses of pieces of chromosomes one and 19, are good prognosis for treatment. So Assem says they hypothesize there are other genetic factors that will lead to better treatment of these tumors. Assem was working on his study long before Kennedy was diagnosed with the tumor, and says they haven’t drawn as much attention because they are rare compared to other forms of cancer.

Assem says the tumors are not very frequent, impacting 10 to 15-thousand people in the U.S. and about the same number in Europe. Assem says Kennedy’s diagnosis should draw more of the spotlight to the tumors. He says the location of the tumors in the brain means the first indication of a problem could be a seizure like the one suffered by Kennedy.

Assem says the tumors are very hard to see, and even when they are found after a scan, they are very diffused in the brain, and often touch a sensitive or vital area of the brain. Assem is an assistant professor of clinical and administrative pharmacy.