Program in Cancer Neuroscience at Stanford

The nervous system plays a central role in cancer pathogenesis. In turn, cancers and cancer therapies can alter nervous system form and function. The program in Cancer Neuroscience at Stanford (CNS) seeks to encourage multidisciplinary collaboration for the study of cancer-nervous system interactions and the development of novel therapeutic strategies to improve cancer outcomes.

A growing appreciation that nervous system activity regulates development, homeostasis, plasticity and regeneration in diverse organ systems has prompted investigations of similar roles for dictating cancer formation and progression. Numerous examples have now come to light that reveal mechanistic parallels in the way that the nervous system regulates normal and neoplastic cellular function across a range of tissue types. As such, nervous system-cancer crosstalk - both systemically and in the local tumor microenvironment - is now emerging as a crucial regulator of cancer. Influences of the nervous system span a range of malignant processes, including tumor initiation, progression, metastasis, modulation of the tumor immune microenvironment, therapeutic resistance, and long term sequalae.

Exemplifying nervous system-cancer interactions, Stanford scientists have discovered that neuronal activity drives the progression of gliomas such as glioblastoma and diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, both through activity-regulated paracrine factors and through neuron-to-glioma synaptic communication. In turn, gliomas modulate neuronal excitability, amplifying growth-promoting neuronal effects and contributing to glioma-associated seizures. Disrupting these interactions between neurons and glioma cells is robustly therapeutic in preclinical models, and clinical studies are now underway to translate these initial insights for improved glioma therapy.

Targeting nervous system-cancer interactions represents a new, largely untapped therapeutic avenue. A great deal remains to be discovered, and advances in cancer neuroscience will require collaboration between neuroscientists and cancer biologists. Leveraging the deep expertise in each discipline at Stanford, the program in Cancer Neuroscience at Stanford seeks to foster collaboration, advance knowledge and improve cancer therapy.

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Administrative Contact:

Julie Hitchcock