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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
The Ken & Ruth Davee Department of Neurology
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Neuro-Oncology Research

Below are labs and faculty who are developing new therapeutic agents and gene therapy to treat malignant and benign tumors through clinical and laboratory research.

We are actively translating the discoveries in our basic science laboratories into clinical trial opportunities for our patients. For more information, visit the Malnati Brain Tumor Institute’s Clinical Trials page

Labs

 Shi-Yuan Cheng Lab

Cancer stem cell biology, cellular signaling and therapy responses in human brain tumors, in particular, glioblastoma (GBM)

Research Description

      Integrated genomic analysis by TCGA revealed tat GBMs can be classified into four clinically relevant subtypes, proneural (PN), neural, mesenchymal (Mes) and classical GBMs with each characterized by distinct gene expression signatures and genetic alterations. We reported that PN and Mes glioma stem cells (GSCs) subtypes also have distinct dysregulated signaling pathways. Our current research focuses on novel mechanisms/cellular signaling of GSC biology, tumorigenesis, progression, invasion/metastasis, angiogenesis and therapy responses of GSCs and GBMs.

1. MicroRNAs (miRs) and non-coding RNAs in GSCs and GBMs – miRs and other small non-coding RNAs act as transcription repressors or inducers of gene expression or functional modulators in all multicellular organisms.  Dysregulated miRs/noncoding RNAs plays critical roles in cancer initiation, progression and responses to therapy. We study the mechanisms by which deregulated expression of miRs influence GBM malignant phenotypes through interaction with signaling pathways, that in turn, influence proneural (PN)- and mesenchymal (Mes)-associated gene expression in GSCs and GBM phenotypes. We study the molecular consequences and explore clinical applications of modulating miRs and signaling pathways in GBMs.  We are establishing profiles of non-coding RNAs in these GSCs and study mechanisms and biological influences of these non-coding RNAs in regulating GSC biology and GBM phenotypes. In addition, we explore novel therapeutic approaches of delivery of tumor suppressive miRs into GSC brain xenografts in animals.

2.  Autophagy in GBMs. (Macro)autophagy is an evolutionally conserved dynamic process whereby cells catabolize damaged proteins and organelles in a lysosome-dependent manner. Autophagy principally serves as an adaptive role to protect cells and tissues, including those associated with cancer. Autophagy in response to multiple stresses including therapeutic treatments such as radiation and chemotherapies provides a mechanism for tumor cell to survive and acquire resistance to therapies. Tumors can use autophagy to support and sustain their proliferation, survival, metabolism, invasiveness, metastasis and resistance to therapy. We study mechanisms by which phosphorylation, acetylation and ubiquitination of autophagy proteins regulate GSC and GBM phenotypes and autophagic response, which, in turn contributes to tumor cell survival, growth and resistance to therapy. We investigate whether disruption of these post-translational processes on autophagy proteins inhibits autophagy and enhances the efficacy of combination therapies for GBMs. We examine whether cross-talks between miRs, autophagy and oncogenic signaling pathways regulate GSC stemness and phenotypes.

3. Heterogeneity, epigenetic regulation, DNA damage and metabolic pathways in GSCs and GBMs. Intratumoral heterogeneity is a characteristic of GBMs and most of cancers. Phenotypic and functional heterogeneity arise among GBM cells within the same tumor as a consequence of genetic change, environmental differences and reversible changes in cell properties. Subtype mosaicism within the same tumor and spontaneous conversion of human PN to Mes tumors have been observed in clinical GBMs. We explore an emerging epigenetic marker with distinct functions such as DNA methylation together with genetic mapping of these markers to assess their contributions to GBM heterogeneity. In addition, compared with PN GSCs, DNA damage and glycolytic pathways are aberrant active in Mes GSCs. We investigate the mechanisms by which these pathways regulate GSC and GBM phenotypes and responses to therapies.

4. Oncogenic receptor tyrosine kinase (RTKs) signaling, small Rho GTPase regulators in GBM and GSCs: Small Rho GTPases such as Rac1 and Cdc42 modulate cancer cell migration, invasion, growth and survival. Recently, we described mechanisms by which EGFR and its mutant EGFRvIII and PDGFR alpha promote glioma growth and invasion by distinct mechanisms involving phosphorylation of Dock180, a Rac-specific guanidine nucleotide exchange factor (GEF) and DCBLD2, an orphan membrane receptor. We are currently investigating involvement of other modulators/GEFs and other Rho GTPases in modulating GSC and GBM phenotypes and responses to therapy.

For more information, please see Dr. Cheng's faculty profile and lab website.

Publications

View Dr. Cheng's complete list of publications in PubMed.

Contact Us

Shi-Yuan Cheng, PhD at 312-503-5314

Visit us on campus in the Lurie Building, Room 6-119, 303 E Superior Street, Chicago, Illinois 60611.

 

 Alexander Stegh Lab

Defining and targeting the oncogenome of Glioblastoma.

Research Description

Our research program is aimed at understanding the genetic program that underlies the pathogenesis of Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most prevalent and malignant form of brain cancer. Applying a combination of cell/molecular biology, oncogenomic and mouse engineering approaches, we are dedicated to systematically characterize novel gliomagenic oncogenes and tumor suppressors. We will functionally delineate and validate these pathways using cell culture and animal models and develop novel nanotechnological approaches to target these aberrations in established tumors.

For more information see the faculty profile of Alexander H Stegh MD, PhD, or visit  the Alexander H. Stegh Lab website.

Recent Publications

View Dr. Stegh's full list of publications at PubMed

Contact

Alexander Stegh, MD, PhD, at 312-503-2879

 Jane Wu Lab

The Wu Laboratory seeks to understand molecular mechanisms regulating gene expression and their involvement in the pathogenesis of age-related diseases, including neurodegeneration and tumor metastasis.

Research Description

RNA Processing and Neurodegeneration

Accumulating evidence supports that aberrant RNA processing represents a general pathogenic mechanism for neurodegeneration, including dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). A number of RNA binding proteins (RBPs) have been associated with neurodegenerative diseases, especially various proteinopathies. Recent studies have defined TDP-43 and FUS proteinopathies, a group of heterogeneous neurodegenerative disorders overlapping with dementia, including frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) and ALS. Several important questions drive our research: what is physiological function of these RBPs? What are the fundamental mechanisms by which genetic mutations in or aberrant regulation of these RBPs cause neural damage? What are the earliest detectable molecular and cellular events that reflect the neural damage in these devastating neurological diseases? How to reverse/repair the neural damage and slow down the progression of these devastating diseases.

To address these questions, we have established cellular and animal models for both TDP-43 and FUS proteinopathies (Li et al, 2010;Barmada et al, 2010; Chen et al, 2011; Fushimi et al, 2011). Using combined biochemical, biophysical, molecular biology and cell biology approaches, we have begun to examine the molecular pathogenic mechanisms underlying neurotoxicity induced by TDP-43 and FUS. Our recent work using atomic force microscopy (AFM), electron microscopy (EM) and (NMR) approaches has shown the biochemical, biophysical and structural similarities between TDP-43 and classical amyloid proteins (Guo et al, 2011; Xu et al, 2013; Bigio et al, 2013). Our study has defined a minimal amyloidogenic region at the carboxyl terminal domain of TDP-43 that is sufficient for amyloid fibril formation and neurotoxicity (Guo et al, 2011; Zhu et al, unpublished). Using cellular and animal models for FUS proteinopathy, we have begun to identify the earliest detectable cellular damage caused by mutations in and overexpression of the human FUS gene. Our data have provided new insights into pathogenic mechanisms underlying these proteinopathies and suggested candidate targets for developing therapeutic approaches.

A critical step in mammalian gene expression is the removal of introns by the process of pre-mRNA splicing. Alternative pre-mRNA splicing, the process of generating multiple mRNA transcripts from a single genetic locus by alternative selection of distinct splice sites, is one of most powerful mechanisms for genetic diversity and an excellent means for fine-tuning gene activity. Many genes critical for neuronal survival and function undergo extensive alternative splicing. Splicing defects play important roles in neurodegenerative disorders such as dementia and motor neuron diseases. For example, splicing mutations in the human tau gene and imbalance of tau splicing isoforms lead to frontotemporal lobar degeneration with tau-positive pathology (FTLD-tau). To understand mechanisms underlying FTLD-tau, we have set up a model system and developed a number of biochemical, molecular and cell biological assays to study alternative splicing of the human tau gene. Our work has led to the identification of a number of cis-elements and trans-acting RBPs controlling tau alternative splicing (Kar et al, 2006; Wu et al, 2006; Kar et al, 2011; Ray et al, 2011). Our experiments have begun to reveal previously unknown players in FTLD-tau and provided new candidate target genes for developing therapeutic strategy (Donahue et al, 2006; unpublished).

Molecular Mechanisms Regulating Axon Guidance, Cell Migration & Tumor Metastasis

Another line of our research focuses on the cellular and molecular mechanisms regulating cell migration and cancer metastasis. Previous studies from our group and others led to the discovery of Slit as a prototype of neuronal guidance cue. Our studies have shown that Slit interacts with Roundabout (Robo) and acts as a chemorepellent for axons and migrating neurons (Wu et al, 1999; Li et al, 1999;Yuasa-Kawada et al, 2009). Our work has demonstrated that Slit-Robo signaling modulates chemokines and inhibits migration of different types of cells, including cancer cells. The observation that Slit is frequently inactivated in a range of tumors suggests an important role of Slit in tumor suppression. We have established several assays and shown that Slit inhibits invasion and migration of cancer cells, including breast cancer, glioma and prostate cancer. We are using combined molecular and cell biology approaches to dissecting Slit-Robo signaling in neuronal guidance and tumor suppression. Our research has provided new insights into signal transduction pathways mediating Slit function. Enhancing or activating the endogenous mechanisms that restrict or suppress cancer invasion/metastasis will likely provide novel approaches to cancer metastasis. 

For more information please view the faculty profile of Jane Wu, MD, PhD or visit the Wu Lab website.

Recent Publications

View a full list of publications by Jane Wu at PubMed

Contact Us

Jane Wu, MD, PhD, at 312-503-0684

 

Faculty

Cheng, Shi-Yuan

Cheng, Shi-Yuan

Professor of Neurology (Neuro-oncology)

Bio

The primary goals of research projects in Cheng laboratory is to improve our understanding of the molecular mechanisms and signaling pathways of human cancer initiation, tumorigenesis, invasion, metas... [more]

Kumthekar, Priya U

Kumthekar, Priya U

Associate Professor of Neurology (Neuro-oncology) and Medicine (Hematology and Oncology)

Bio

My interests include treating primary brain tumors such as gliomas and meningiomas. I also have a specific interest in metastatic disease to the brain from systemic cancers such as melanoma, lung and ... [more]

Lukas, Rimas V

Lukas, Rimas V

Associate Professor of Neurology (Neuro-oncology)

Bio

Dr. Lukas, sub-specializing in neuro-oncology, is interested in the care of patients with primary brain tumors and spinal cord tumors as well as central nervous system (CNS) metastases. Dr. Lukas's re... [more]

Raizer, Jeffrey J

Raizer, Jeffrey J

Adjunct Professor of Neurology (Neuro-oncology)

Bio

Brain Tumors, Spinal Cord Tumors, Neurologic Complications of Cancer

Stegh, Alexander H

Stegh, Alexander H

Associate Professor of Neurology (Neuro-oncology) and Medicine (Hematology and Oncology)

Bio

Our research program is aimed at understanding the genetic program that underlies the pathogenesis of Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most prevalent and malignant form of brain cancer. Applying a c... [more]

Stupp, Roger

Stupp, Roger

Professor of Neurological Surgery, Medicine (Hematology and Oncology) and Neurology (Neuro-oncology)

Wu, Jane Y

Wu, Jane Y

Professor of Neurology (Neuromuscular Disease)

Bio

My primary research interests are in molecular mechanisms of gene regulation, particularly those involved in neural development and neural degeneration. My lab is focusing on two areas, RNA regulation... [more]

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