Brian Andersen, MD, PhD
Understanding Mechanisms of Communication Between Cancer and Healthy Brain Cells
Glioblastoma (GBM) is the most common and lethal type of cancer that develops in the brain. While other metastasized brain cancers frequently respond to treatments that activate the immune system, immunotherapy does little to slow GBM’s growth. Currently, scientists are seeking to understand how the immune system can fight this devastating cancer. Under the microscope, GBM contains a mixture of cancer, immune, and brain cells. Researchers can now analyze gene expression — the cell’s instructions — at single-cell resolution. If we can understand gene expression in single cells, we can know what hinders the immune system’s fight against GBM. Initial studies show that GBM grows via interactions with surrounding noncancerous cells. My research will investigate single-cell interactions of GBM in astrocytes, a multipurpose brain cell. Astrocytes are capable of powerful immune functions that GBM researchers have largely overlooked but which might be valuable for treating GBM. I will identify interactions in recurrent GBM specimens correlated with tumor recurrence and interrupt these interactions in cell culture as a test of therapeutic value.
To me, the PhRMA Foundation Fellowship in Translational Medicine represents an investment in synergizing the power of cutting-edge molecular analysis and brain cancer patient outcomes data. I hope to show with this award that such an investment yields novel therapeutic targets for glioblastoma.