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Sean Lawler, PhD

Award Name CCTS Pilot 2009
Award Date 04/01/2009


Recapitulation of Glioma Invasion Using Nanofibers

Sean Lawler, PhD is looking to identify critical pro-invasive molecules in the brain in order to facilitate the design of target-specific therapeutic agents.

Dr. Lawler is trying to develop accurate assays for brain tumor cells. The invasion of glioma cells surrounding the brain is a major obstacle to effective treatment and understanding their movements is vital. Using an electrospun tissue engineering scaffold, Dr. Lawler and his team have found that glioma cells grow and migrate on the structure and that migration is dependent on the alignment of the fibers. The electrospun model produces fine fibers that closely resemble extracellular matrices and has shown that glioma cells prefer invasion along white-matter tracts.

“What we’ve been shown is things that other people haven’t seen.” Dr. Lawler said.

Invasiveness is one of the major traits of primary brain tumors, where malignant cells diffuse and spread along defined structures of the brain. This prevents complete surgical excision and leads to tumor recurrence. Currently, the lack of robust molecular markers means there are no effective therapies that can target glioma cells. The study will identify markers to address this problem. It will also look to identify relevant genes and pathways involved in glioma cell migration.

“Essentially, we’re just developing new assays which are going to tell us things that people may not have identified yet and uncover new things,” Dr. Lawler said. “The idea that we might be able to take some of these things forward and use them … that’s why we’re doing this.”

One of the problems Dr. Lawler says he faces is the difficulty in determining if the novel assays actually represent something real.

Another issue is the sheer number of genes to look at on a microarray. Choosing a relevant gene to follow is complicated and important, as time is limited.

Dr. Lawler said the end goal is to get the data out there for the development of drugs that can target these cells.

“Ultimately, it will allow us to do things that are good for patients suffering from all sorts of different diseases,” he said.

By Jeffy Mai, Thursday, June 17, 2009

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