Our Research Director
Alexander H. Stegh, PhD, is a leading brain cancer scientist. As the inaugural research director, Stegh is expanding the basic, translational and clinical research programs within the Brain Tumor Center while partnering with clinical and basic science departments at the School of Medicine.
The Brain Tumor Center has established four signature research programs. Each of these programs have developed therapies and technologies that are currently under preclinical investigation or are being tested in unique, early-phase, investigator-initiated clinical trials.
Our Convergence Science program is focused on bringing together biomedical engineers, chemists, brain tumor biologists, immunologists and clinicians to develop state-of-the-art neuro-device technology and nanotechnology-enabled precision therapeutics. This signature program represents a close collaboration with the Division of Neurotechnology led by Eric C. Leuthardt, MD.
Within the Convergence Science program, are two subsets: Neuro-device technology and Brain Cancer nanotechnology.
Neuro-device technology harnesses and optimizes novel device-oriented strategies, including (1) laser interstitial thermal therapy that heats and destroys tumor cells, and which we have pioneered to help over 400 patients to date; (2) focused ultrasound to temporarily open the blood-brain barrier to allow drugs to target insidious tumor cells; and (3) functional MRI to non-invasively monitor brain cancer.
Brain cancer nanotechnology develops nanoscale therapeutics — structures with a size of 1-100 nanometers (a nanometer is equal to one-billionth of a meter). Nanoconjugates have unique properties that make them suitable for the delivery of therapeutic payloads to tumors and the tumor-associated immune system. Promising results from early phase clinical trials of first-generation nanotherapeutics have motivated current efforts in the BTC to utilize next generation nanotherapeutics for further clinical testing.
Our Immunotherapy program explores mechanisms of immunosuppression in brain tumors and develops innovative immunotherapies to attack brain cancers from unexpected and largely unexplored perspectives. Therapies include design of personalized vaccines currently treating patients, and development of oncolytic viruses. These efforts involve other programs at Washington University School of Medicine, including the Bursky Center for Human Immunology and Immunotherapy, the Center for Brain Immunology and Glia, the Hope Center, and the Center for Neuroimmunology and Neuroinfectious Diseases.
The Tumor Biology program seeks to identify and pharmacologically target mechanisms of brain tumor initiation, progression, and therapy resistance. Our investigators study the role of brain tumor stem cells as critical drivers of tumor formation and therapeutic resistance. We also explore the unique mechanisms by which tumor cells change their metabolism to satisfy the large demand for fuel to support their unabated growth. Our team also pioneered the concept that sex differences—whether tumors occur in male or female patients — affects the central drivers of the tumor, and therefore impacts the way we treated the patient. In addition, Washington University was the first institution to run a clinical trial for any cancer based on an individual’s own circadian rhythm. This stems from studies in animals showing profound differences in survival when we dose medications based on circadian rhythms. These concepts further enable us to personalize brain cancer treatments.
Our Epigenetics Program studies changes in gene expression that occur in the absence of new genetic alterations or mutations. Team members explore how these “epi”-genetic changes drive tumor heterogeneity, therapy resistance and disease recurrence. By re-defining patient tumors through the prism of epigenetics, Brain Tumor Center scientists seek to identify epigenetic cancer cell vulnerabilities that inform the development of novel therapies to reduce cancer cell heterogeneity and therapy evasion. This program uses cutting-edge technologies developed in the McDonnell Genome Institute, one of the world’s leading institutions in the field of genomics.