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Brain grant

Upstate Foundation awards $50,000 for brain cancer research

The Upstate Foundation has invested in brain cancer research at Upstate Medical University with an award of $50,000 to a project led by Mariano Viapiano, PhD, associate professor of neuroscience and neurosurgery and director of the Brain Tumor Laboratory and Biorepository. The award is the result of a competitive application and evaluation process overseen by David Amberg, PhD, vice president for research at Upstate.

Viapiano currently directs a research program to develop novel treatments for patients with malignant gliomas, the most aggressive form of brain cancer. In his latest project, he and his team plan to target a rare change in tumor cells that makes these cells able to avoid the immune system. For the past two decades, the Viapiano Lab has studied how tumor cells change the proteins that coat the cell surface and how those mutated proteins promote tumor growth.

In the past two years the team has identified a type of protein alteration that tumor cells use to avoid immune surveillance, but that has remained entirely ignored in the field of brain cancer. Their project will identify which proteins carry this alteration in brain cancer cells and will use small fragments of those proteins to force the immune system to recognize and attack the tumor cells.

This project, which has received a university research award, is already in its initial phase and has identified a number of potential protein candidates that can be used to boost the immune system against brain cancer. The team’s overarching goal is to identify the mutated proteins in each patient's tumor biopsy and formulate a personalized "immuno-boosting" cocktail for each patient. To this end, the project includes not only the resources of the Brain Tumor Lab but also the expertise of collaborators in neuroscience, immunology and biochemistry at Upstate Medical University. This funding will support a wide range of investigators and technological development at the University.

“We are so pleased to support this important project,” said Eileen Pezzi, vice president for development at Upstate. “This investment will help Upstate advance new treatments that are desperately needed by patients with brain cancer.”

Established in the early 1990s, the Brain Tumor Laboratory and Biorepository is the flagship resource of the University for research and diagnosis of patients with brain cancer. Viapiano has led the Brain Tumor Lab since his arrival at Upstate in 2006, after directing the Harvey Cushing Neuro-Oncology Laboratories at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

To learn more about this research project, contact Mariano Viapiano at viapianm@upstate.edu


Caption: Lab director and principal investigator Mariano Viapiano, PhD, second from right, with the team of the Upstate Brain Tumor Laboratory and Biorepository. From left, Leah Longo, research aide; Joan Chou, medical student; Sharon Longo, laboratory manager; John Longo, research specialist; Somanath Kundu, postdoctoral scientist; and Roshini Arivazhagan, postdoctoral scientist. Photo taken pre-pandemic.