The decision by Duane Mitchell, MD, PhD, to relocate his research endeavor from Duke University to the University of Florida didn’t come easy to the man who is a Blue Devil at heart.
Mitchell, who received his medical degree and doctorate degree as well as his postgraduate training from Duke, joined the UF College of Medicine faculty in 2013 to lead a comprehensive brain tumor program focused on translational research.
“What struck me first about UF was the collaborative and collegial atmosphere, which gave me the confidence that our team could continue the productive research interactions required in our translational work,” said Mitchell, the Phyllis Kottler Friedman professor in the department of neurosurgery.
Mitchell, who brought seven members of his research team with him to the department, is co-director of the Preston A. Wells Jr. Center for Brain Tumor Therapy and director of the UF Brain Tumor Immunotherapy Program.
He was recruited to join UF’s fight against cancer about a year before Florida Gov. Rick Scott created the Florida Consortium of National Cancer Institute Centers. His arrival, however, represented a head start for UF Health in its plan to hire distinguished faculty members from around the world to join existing faculty to help make a meaningful impact on cancer care for millions of Americans.
“It was clear to me that the leadership at the university and at UF Health embrace the importance of research to the patient care objective,” Mitchell said. “It is very appealing to be a part of the significant commitment and resources that UF is investing in research to advance health care.”
Mitchell, who has served as principal investigator on seven first-in-human protocols through FDA-approved trials, has considerable clinical and translational research experience. He and his team recently received funds from organizations such as the Department of Defense, the Florida Brain Tumor Association and Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure to support UF’s first pediatric brain tumor immunotherapy trial.
The primary aim of Mitchell’s pediatric trial, which includes participation from several other medical centers throughout the U.S., is to help patients with two types of tumors — medulloblastomas and primitive neuroectodermal tumors. The immunotherapy trial uses what is known as adoptive cellular therapy. Mitchell explained that some of the patient’s immune cells are removed from the body, trained to fight tumors, expanded to large numbers and then returned to the patient in hopes that they will travel to the brain, identify the cancer cells and eliminate them.
“To move advancements from the lab into the clinical arena with this kind of specialized treatment requires very specific facilities and expertise,” Mitchell said. “UF has incredible capacity for this type of specialized research, and these institutional resources were a major factor in assuring that we would be able to advance cutting-edge efforts in cancer immunotherapy.”
It didn’t hurt that the Gainesville community appealed to his family as well. Mitchell moved his family in July, and his wife gave birth to their third child in October. Coming from a university town in North Carolina to a similar environment in North Florida made the transition easy.
“My family loves living here,” Mitchell said. “We enjoy the year-round activities and immediately found the people of Gainesville very friendly and engaging. It’s a tremendous quality of life.”