Elizabeth Maher, M.D., Ph.D.

Elizabeth Maher, M.D., Ph.D.

  • Theodore H. Strauss Professorship in Neuro-Oncology
  • Internal Medicine - Hematology/Oncology
  • Medical Treatment of Brain & Spinal Cord Cancer
  • Gliomas

Biography

Elizabeth Anne Maher, M.D., Ph.D., is a Professor of Internal Medicine and Neurology & Neurotherapeutics and the Theodore H. Strauss Professor in Neuro-Oncology at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

After earning her medical degree at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, Dr. Maher completed an internship in medicine as well as junior and senior residencies in internal medicine at The Toronto Hospital in Toronto, Canada. She then performed a medical oncology fellowship and subspecialty neuro-oncology training at Dana-Farber/Partners Cancer Care and Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA.

Dr. Maher also completed a Heart and Stroke Foundation medical scientist fellowship at the McGill University Department of Physiology and a seven-year research fellowship in the Department of Adult Oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Dr. Maher served for more than six years as an instructor in internal medicine at the Harvard Medical School Center for Neuro-Oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. She joined UT Southwestern in 2006 as an Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and Neurology & Neurotherapeutics at Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center and has served as an Associate Professor since 2009.

Dr. Maher is an educator and mentor for UT Southwestern medical students and residents on topics including brain tumor biology and clinical management, magnetic resonance imaging and translational research of malignant glioma, and palliative care for young brain tumor patients.

In 2006 Dr. Maher became the Medical Director of the UT Southwestern Neuro-Oncology Program, serving in this role for seven years. Since 2013 she has served as the program’s Director of Translational Research and the Director of the Crystal Charity Ball Center for Pediatric Brain and Neurological Diseases at UT Southwestern.

Among numerous recognitions, Dr. Maher has received awards and honors from organizations such as Canadian Society for Clinical Investigation, College of Family Physicians of Canada, Goldhirsh Foundation, McGill University, Sigma Xi, and Women’s College Hospital.  

Dr. Maher is a principal investigator or co-author of several ongoing research studies on glioma and related topics funded by entities including the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas and the National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute. She has also participated in research studies published in journals such as Nature Medicine, Nature, Cell, Cell Metabolism, Journal of Clinical Oncology, Journal of Clinical Investigation, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Cancer Research, and Cell Reports.

Dr. Maher has authored chapters on neoplasms of the central nervous system for medical textbooks including the Diagnostic Atlas of Oncology. She is an ad hoc reviewer for journals including Science, Scientific Reports, Journal of Clinical Oncology, Neuro-oncology, Cancer Research, and Neuro-oncology.

Dr. Maher has presented on brain tumor topics at national and international conferences, meetings, symposiums, and grand rounds for organizations including the American Association of Cancer Research, American Society of Clinical Oncology, New York Academy of Sciences, Pezcoller Foundation, International Society of Cancer Metabolism, and institutions such as Harvard Medical School, Yale University, Weill Cornell Medical Center, Vanderbilt, and MD Anderson Cancer Center.

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Meet Dr. Maher

Brain Tumor Specialist in Dallas

UT Southwestern medical oncologist Elizabeth Maher, M.D., Ph.D., specializes in low-grade gliomas – a family of malignancies that affect the glia, or supportive tissues, of the brain. Though they represent only about one in four of all brain tumors, the majority of gliomas are malignant. About half of gliomas are the late-stage, aggressive malignancies known as glioblastomas.

The Director of UT Southwestern’s translational research program in Neuro-Oncology, Dr. Maher devotes much of her time to research while continuing to provide patient care alongside colleagues in medical oncology, radiation oncology, and neurosurgery.

“We are waging a war against these tumor cells,” Dr. Maher says. “So the questions we ask are, ‘What is in our arsenal, and when will we deploy it?’ Just as in a well-planned military mission, we are going to move in slowly with the right equipment, evaluate the situation carefully, and then act on that information.”

UT Southwestern physician-scientists like Dr. Maher monitor gliomas with leading-edge imaging techniques that precisely identify the biomarkers of each tumor.

“While we’re tracking gliomas, we’re also working on how to kill their cells,” she says. “For example, we’re looking at ways to ‘cut the fuel line’ that provides the metabolic energy these tumors need to survive. You can have a fancy sports car in your driveway, but if the gas tank is empty, it’s not going anywhere.”

Offering Hope Through Research

While the diagnosis of any type of brain cancer is frightening, Dr. Maher has a powerful message for glioma patients: There is hope. Ongoing advances in the biomedical understanding of these tumors are paving the way for highly personalized treatments.

Just as importantly, she emphasizes, there is time – time to obtain a precise diagnosis and develop a customized plan of care for each patient’s specific condition and needs.

“The average survival for patients with low grade (Grade 2) gliomas is about 10 years after diagnosis,” Dr. Maher says. During much of that time, she explains, a patient’s brain scans appear stable because the tumor cells are mostly dormant (not actively replicating). 

In addition, certain gliomas have recently been discovered to have a genetic mutation affecting a metabolic enzyme called IDH (isocitrate dehydrogenase), which is associated with a better outcome than non-mutated IDH.

Dr. Maher and her colleagues in the Advanced Research Imaging Center at UT Southwestern have developed a powerful method for detecting 2-hydroxyglutarate (2HG), a chemical produced by IDH-mutant gliomas. The team uses an MRI scan that incorporates 2HG imaging to make the diagnosis of an IDH-mutant glioma, which allows them to give a prognosis and follow the patient’s progress during treatment. 

Dr. Maher views the first few years following a low-grade glioma diagnosis as a window of opportunity to create a detailed molecular profile of the tumor, pinpoint the optimum time to begin treatment, and then enroll the patient in the most appropriate clinical trials available at that time.

Pursuing a Positive Prognosis

Dr. Maher notes that a positive attitude is extremely helpful for glioma patients.

“An increasing number of patients will do well, and we don’t want them to waste precious time feeling discouraged, especially when the research is yielding such important new findings.

“There is also a major therapeutic benefit in understanding what you’ve got, believing you will do well, and trusting the team that is treating you,” she says. “Things are changing rapidly, and UT Southwestern is at the forefront of these advances.”

One of Dr. Maher’s patients was diagnosed with glioblastoma nine years ago – a year before the IDH mutation associated with a better prognosis for glioma patients was identified. Recently he was confirmed to have the mutation. “He has gone on with his life and done really well,” she says, “but imagine if I had been able to tell him how good his chances were when he was first diagnosed.”

Another patient, a woman in her late 20s, was devastated upon being diagnosed with glioma while receiving a brain scan following a minor auto accident.

“We determined that she has the IDH mutation and 2HG can be detected by MRI,” says Dr. Maher. “So we talked about how we are going to evaluate and monitor her tumor, then determine the treatment techniques and timing. She is very glad to have a detailed diagnosis, a positive prognosis, a good way to monitor the tumor with imaging, and a clear plan.”

The most important message, Dr. Maher stresses, is that if you or a loved one is diagnosed with glioma, “There is hardly ever a need to rush immediately into treatment. Everyone needs a second opinion and a short- and long-range plan before starting treatment."

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Education & Training
  • Internship/Residency - University of Toronto Hospitals, Canada (1993-1996), Internal Medicine
  • Fellowship - Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (1996-1999), Hematology Oncology
  • Medical School - McGill University Faculty of Medicine (1989-1993)
  • Graduate School - McGill University Faculty of Medicine (1984-1989), Physiology
Professional Associations & Affiliations
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology (2001)
  • Society for Neuro-Oncology (2003)
Books & Publications
Research
  • Role of altered metabolism in the progression of malignant gliomas.
  • Primary and metastatic brain tumors
  • Development of improved imaging techniques for brain tumors

Clinical Focus

  • Medical Treatment of Brain & Spinal Cord Cancer
  • Gliomas
  • Brain & Spinal Cord Cancer

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Q&A by Dr. Maher

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