The BRIght Futures Prize supports BWH investigators as they work to answer provocative questions or solve vexing problems in medicine. Now in its sixth year, the competition allows voters from the Brigham and beyond to determine the winner of the competition’s $100,000 prize.
In this edition of BWH Bulletin, meet this year’s three finalists and learn more about how they hope to translate scientific discoveries into clinical therapies for patients here and around the world. The BRIght Futures Prize will be presented at Discover Brigham on Thursday, Nov. 9.
Learn more about Dr. Cho’s project below and cast your vote at brightfuturesprize.org.
Choi-Fong Cho, PhD, Neuroscientist, Department of Neurosurgery
What problem are you trying to solve?
CFC: Advanced brain cancers including glioblastoma, are often incurable and have a high mortality rate. Patients typically undergo surgery, followed by chemotherapy, radiotherapy or both. But even with this aggressive treatment strategy, the survival rate of patients has only improved slightly, from 11 months (with no treatment) to 14.6 months from the time of diagnosis. It is impossible to completely remove aggressive brain cancer cells by surgery because these cells invade the surrounding normal brain tissue and cannot be easily identified. Cancer drugs administered via the bloodstream are often unable to reach these cells, as the cells are protected by a highly evolved barrier called the blood-brain barrier, which isolates brain tissues from foreign molecules introduced through the blood stream. Our mission is to address these dire clinical challenges by developing new targeted therapies that can effectively cross the blood-brain barrier and selectively seek out and destroy brain tumor cells.
What is your solution?
CFC: We have developed a unique molecule that can cross the blood-brain barrier, as well as identify and home in on brain cancer cells. This allows us to target only the tumor cells without harming healthy tissue. This tumor-homing “smart missile” is called BTP-7.
Our target is a protein signature that is present only on the surface of brain cancer cells; this is not found in healthy tissue. BTP-7 binds to this protein and then becomes internalized by the brain cancer cells. Our plan is to chemically fuse a chemotherapeutic drug or imaging agent onto BTP-7 – like attaching a warhead onto a missile. We will generate many different BTP-7 missiles containing various types of anti-cancer drugs or imaging agents to enable us to selectively visualize and destroy the tumor.
How will your research project benefit people?
CFC: Conventional chemotherapy drugs travel throughout the body and can also damage normal healthy cells, causing severe side effects in patients. Improving our ability to direct these drugs specifically to the tumor should enable us to increase treatment effectiveness while reducing the unwanted side effects of chemotherapy. Findings from our research could help us develop the next generation of therapeutics to extend the lives of patients with advanced brain cancer, as well as improve the quality of life of the patients and their families. Ultimately, we aim to advance precision medicine in neuro-oncology and abolish brain cancer in the future.
Collaborators and Affiliations
E. Antonio Chiocca, MD, chair of Neurosurgery
Bradley Pentelute, PhD, associate professor of Chemistry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Marcelo DiCarli, MD, chief of Nuclear Medicine
Sean Lawler, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Neurosurgery