Realizing Futures

Dr. Wei Li

Penn State College of Medicine

Brain tumors are a major class of pediatric cancers. These tumors arise in the cranium or central spinal canal. Because of the limited space of the intracranial cavity, brain tumors are usually inherently serious and life-threatening. Despite major advances in neuroimaging and neurosurgical techniques over the past decades, the neurosurgical management of brain tumor patients remains challenging. In order to radically alter the clinical course of these brain tumors, it is important to develop targeted therapies based on identified oncogenic mutations and signaling pathways that drive their development and sustain their maintenance.
The Hippo pathway has emerged as an essential signaling network in regulating tissue growth. Deregulation of this pathway is found in multiple human cancers, including pediatric brain tumors. Such defect may also account for therapeutic resistance in various circumstances. Therefore, targeting this pathway has recently been examined as a new avenue for regenerative medicine and cancer treatment.
The research group led by Dr. Li at Penn State College of Medicine studies the functions and regulations of the Hippo pathway as well as other oncogenic mutations in pediatric brain tumors. One of the studies focuses on examining the role of the Polycomb-group methyltransferase EZH2 in facilitating the inhibitory regulation of the Hippo pathway, and exploring the therapeutic efficacy when an E3 Ubiquitin ligase CRL4DCAF1 and EZH2 are inhibited in glioma cells. If these studies determine that glioma cells are sensitive to these inhibitions, it will provide scientific rationale to test if this method can be translated into novel clinical trials for patients with related diseases. The generous support from the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation will enable Dr. Li’s group to continue the research on these targeted therapies for pediatric brain tumors.

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When you are young and healthy, it never occurs to you that in a single second your whole life could change. – Annette Funicello