Touching Minds: A Brain Surgeon & Scientist on Cancer



“The days of when a doctor says we have to do surgery and that’s it…are over…Patients need to be part of the process.” -Dr. Liau

Dr. Linda M. Liau, MD, PhD, MBA is Professor and Chair of the Department of Neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and Co-Director of the UCLA Brain Tumor Center. In addition to performing brain surgeries, she works tirelessly in the lab to improve the lives of brain cancer patients, including one of the deadliest cancers: Glioblastoma, the disease that inflicted Senator John McCain, Senator Ted Kennedy, and Major Beau Biden. Dr. Liau is the lead investigator on various novel clinical trials for brain cancer patients, and developed one of the first human applications of a personalized brain tumor vaccine. She is on the editorial boards of several scientific/medical journals and is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Neuro-Oncology.

Our discussion includes:

  • How she became a MD, PhD, and MBA
  • What motivates her
  • How she thinks of her patients
  • Second opinions
  • Choosing a doctor and treatment team
  • Whether to seek treatment at an academic institution
  • Immunotherapy and other promising advances
  • Combination therapies and clinical trial designs
  • Characteristics of long-term survivors

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Show Notes:
Dr. Liau’s background and education [8:20]
Dr. Liau’s mother’s diagnosis [12:10]
Decision to do PhD [12:45]
Neuroimmunology, Herceptin for breast cancer [13:50]
NIH funding and brain cancer lab research [16:10]
MBA and “the business of medicine” [16:35]
Empathy and being on the other side of the doctor-patient relationship [20:00]
Patients helping future patients through data sharing [23:30]
Brief overview of brain tumors and Dr. Liau’s specialties [24:30]
Historical GBM survival, evolution of treatments, “pockets of hope,” & efficacy in subgroups [26:40]
Genetic sequencing, molecular profiling, and personalized therapies [28:40]
How to choose doctors and institutions. Getting second opinions [29:25]
Academic vs. non-academic hospitals [33:20]
Being an educated patient and part of the process [36:30]
Treatments and research Dr. Liau is excited about [37:35]
Brain cancer immunotherapy and combinations of therapy
Cancer cell metabolism treatments
Radiating brain cancer cells and cancer stem cells
Subgroups, clinical trial design and endpoint challenges, and personalized medicine [47:20]
Successful patients – Patterns, characteristics, and the role of hope [55:30]


More Links
A few patient blogs, but there are many other greats: The Liz Army, Astrocytoma Options, Glioblastology

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