Emma D. Vartanian, a medical student at Weill Cornell Medical College, has been awarded a prestigious Summer Fellowship from the Saint Baldrick’s Foundation to work in Dr. Greenfield’s research lab this year. Emma will be dedicated to an exciting project focused exclusively on gliomas.

Dr. Greenfield and Emma Vartanian

Dr. Greenfield will mentor Emma Vartanian this summer during her St. Baldrick’s Summer Fellowship for the Children’s Brain Tumor Project.

For this research project, Emma will investigate what causes a major difference between low-grade and high-grade gliomas. Low-grade gliomas grow slowly, and individuals diagnosed with these tumors can live for decades. But high-grade lesions are extremely aggressive, and their rapid proliferation means that a patient usually survives less than two years from diagnosis. If we can learn more about how and why these tumors grow so fast, we may be able to find ways to slow them down and make them behave more like their low-grade cousins. That’s not a cure — but if there’s a way to turn a relentless and fatal tumor into a chronic condition, that would be an amazing first step.

We already know one reason that high-grade gliomas can grow quickly is because they develop an almost boundless blood supply. A vast network of new blood vessels form at the tumor site in a process called neovascularization, fed by signals from the bone marrow and allowing the tumor to double and redouble in size. This summer’s project aims to test ways to block those signals and prevent neovascularization.

Under Dr. Greenfield’s guidance, Emma will use mouse models to study the effects of an inhibitor drug on the progression of gliomas. Using special stains to track which types of cells are mobilized as the tumor grows, and comparing disease progression in treated versus untreated mice, Emma hopes to be able to show that the bone marrow is indeed “recruiting” the cells that drive those new blood vessels to form, and that using inhibitor drugs can successfully delay disease progression by impeding this process.

We’re delighted to have Emma on board for such an innovative laboratory project, and we’re grateful to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation for their ongoing support for childhood cancer research.