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Shining a light on the role of lipid metabolism as a barrier to successful brain tumour treatment 

Fast facts

  • Official title: Role of CD36 in immune response to irradiated glioblastoma
  • Lead researcher: Dr. Mara De Martino
  • Where: Weill Cornell Medicine, USA
  • When: January 2023 – December 2025
  • Cost: £224,302 over three years
  • Research type: Glioblastoma (GBM), Immunotherapy, Radiotherapy, Tumour Microenvironment
  • Award type: Future Leaders

Modern anti-cancer therapies do not ensure the defeat of brain tumours. Radiotherapy can produce a response in the brain tumour that leads to treatment resistance. Finding an efficient strategy to prevent resistance to treatments is a fundamental step to fight brain tumours. Dr De Martino’s preliminary work shows that radiotherapy modifies the way that cancer cells produce the energy they need to survive and grow by using lipids (fundamental building blocks of all cells which play many important and varied roles). The change in how lipids are used by cancer cells could be the reason why irradiated brain tumours escape from the attack of the immune cells (specialised cells targeting dangerous cells to destroy them).   

What is it?

Dr De Martino will use cutting-edge experimental approaches in biomedicine, such as spatial transcriptomic (which spatially localize and quantify gene expression producing detailed molecular maps of a cell and/or tissue) and multiplex immunofluorescence (which simultaneously identify and allow visualization of specific proteins and immune cell types) to test the hypothesis that irradiated brain tumours escape immune attack because of an excess use of lipids.  

She will use mouse models with a brain tumour that have similar characteristics and behaviour to a human tumour. A small animal irradiator (machine delivering low energy X-rays used to study the effects of radiation treatment) will be used to treat mice in a similar way to brain tumour patients. Dr De Martino will modify and manipulate the genes (DNA) of the mouse models to block lipids in the tumour or in the immune system. She will assess the consequences of this, looking at the growth of the brain tumour and the survival rate. Dr De Martino will also use drugs that inhibit the use of lipids (“lipid pathways”), these drugs will be used in combination with radiotherapy and temozolomide (chemotherapy) in mice with brain tumours. 

Why is it important?

Dr De Martino aims to develop a novel treatment for brain tumours based on the combination of lipid inhibitors and radiotherapy. Even though the research will be developed in mouse models, the pathways that Dr De Martino plans to block are already being tested separately in clinical trials in multiple cancers. The results of her research could accelerate the use of lipid inhibitors in patients with brain tumours. 

Who will it help?

Dr De Martino’s research project has the potential to help individuals diagnosed with glioblastoma, their families and healthcare professionals. 

Dr De Martino’s work has the potential to inform new clinical treatment strategies that improve outcomes for people diagnosed and extend survival rates. 

This project will shed light on the major role of fat/lipid metabolism as a barrier to successful brain tumour treatment. Therefore, this project will advance our current knowledge pertaining to the negative effects of RT in brain tumours. Most importantly, this work will lead to a new treatment strategy to cure brain tumours by targeting lipid metabolism.

Dr. De Martino 

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Dr. Mara De Martino

Dr Mara De Martino is a highly accomplished scientist in the field of tumour immunology research. She has a PhD from the Institute of Biology and Experimental Medicine in Argentina and has won several awards for her impactful research. Currently, she works as a postdoctoral fellow at Weill Cornell Medicine, where she is investigating the immuno-metabolic properties of radiation therapy in glioblastoma.  

Dr De Martino is dedicated to making a difference in fighting cancer and is committed to establishing herself as an independent investigator to investigate the interplay between glioblastoma biology, immune evasion, and immunotherapy approaches. With her impressive track record and dedication to cancer research, she is poised to become a future leader in the field.