Stanford Cancer Institute

SCI Nodal Award

March 2024

Melanie Hayden Gephart, MD, MAS, professor of neurosurgery, Marius Wernig, MD, PhD, professor of pathology, and Michael Bassik, PhD, associate professor of genetics were awarded an SCI Nodal Award for their proposal titled “Deconstructing tumor-immune landscape of GBM using engineered 3D assembloids.” Hayden Gephart is a neurosurgeon who studies the mechanisms driving tumorigenesis and disease progression in malignant brain tumors. Wernig’s lab investigates stem cell biology and neural cell fate specification and is examining the consequences of disease-causing mutations in human neurons. Bassik employs high-throughput functional genomic approaches to study cancer growth, drug resistance, and immune cell function.

Glioblastoma (GBM) is a very aggressive and deadly type of brain tumor with an average survival of less than 15 months. This tumor is known for spreading quickly throughout the brain and coming back even after treatment. GBM cells trick microglia, the immune cells of the brain, into helping the tumor grow and spread. However, we don't fully understand how these interactions work. Hayden Gephart, Wernig and Bassik have engineered a 3D cell culture model to study the interactions between the GBM tumor and immune cells in vitro. With the support of the SCI Nodal Award, the investigators will identify genes involved in the interactions, and investigate how the interactions lead to disease progression and ultimately death. This novel approach will provide insight into how GBM cancer cells hijack immune cells and how we might be able to stop them from helping the tumor grow. The findings will ultimately help improve therapies for this devastating and incurable disease.