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WCM Oncologist Receives $6M NIH Research Award

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Dr. Howard A. Fine

A Weill Cornell Medicine oncologist is receiving a 5-year, $6 million award from the National Institutes of Health to advance research that could help scientists develop new and better brain cancer therapies.

Neuro-oncologist Dr. Howard A. Fine, an internationally recognized leader in the field, recently won the NIH Director's Pioneer Award for his innovative approach to modeling deadly brain cancers in the laboratory.

Scientists typically use lab dish and animal models of gliomas, a type of brain tumor, to help study and find treatments for the disease. But these models "just haven't been sufficiently representative of clinical disease," Fine told the Oncology Times, which is why there hasn't been much therapeutic success.

Dr. Fine and his colleagues at Weill Cornell Medicine, however, have been using advanced stem cell techniques instead to grow large clusters of functional and interconnected human brain cells, also known as cerebral organoids, in the lab.

These cerebral organoids mimic many aspects of a typical 20-week-old human fetal brain. With the technologies Dr. Fine and his team have developed, they have been able to use these cerebral organoids to examine how individual patients' tumors grow and respond to treatment within a realistic biological environment.

The brain-like environments of cerebral organoids have enabled Fine and his colleagues to model brain cancers more accurately on a molecular level and have revealed some properties that aren't visible in traditional models.

Fine and his team hope to use the funds of the NIH award — nearly $1.2 million annually for five years — to enhance the realism of their organoid models by adding blood vessels with the key properties of cerebral vessels and immune cells that normally reside in or can enter the brain.

"I'm thrilled and honored to have been selected for this award," said Fine, founding director of the Brain Tumor Center and Chief of the Division of Neuro-Oncology at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian.

"This Pioneer Award will allow us to pursue a brain cancer modeling strategy that represents a bold departure from traditional approaches, which may lead to consequential scientific advances for our patients: new and more effective treatments and therapies. Our work exemplifies the spirit of the NIH's commitment to high-risk, high-reward research, and I am deeply grateful for this opportunity."

Learn more about the award and Dr. Fine's research over at the Oncology Times.

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