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UPMC Children’s Brain Cancer Researcher Receives RK Mellon Institute for Pediatric Research Award for Developing New Therapy to Treat Medulloblastoma

March 25, 2024

Baoli Hu, PhD, associate professor of Neurological Surgery at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, was awarded a 2024 Richard King Mellon Institute for Pediatric Research Award to support his research on pediatric brain cancer.

Medulloblastoma is the most common malignant childhood brain tumor. Although surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are effective at eliminating some forms of medulloblastoma, they cannot cure patients with aggressive tumors. The deadliest type of medulloblastoma, called Group 3, can metastasize to tissues and organs beyond where it originated (metastasis). The tumor metastasis also results in tumor recurrence. Almost all kids whose tumor returns after treatment ultimately die from the disease. Unfortunately, there is currently no effective therapy for this aggressive type of brain cancer.

With the support of this award, Dr. Hu’s laboratory works on new ways to treat Group 3 medulloblastoma based on the biology of an undifferentiated state of this kind of tumor cells compared to other types of medulloblastoma cells.

In contrast with differentiated cells, undifferentiated tumor cells are generally more malignant, fast-growing, capable of spreading, and resistant to therapy. Dr. Hu’s team will deliver specific genes into tumor cells, which can promote undifferentiated cells to become more differentiated cells. These differentiated tumor cells will ultimately lose the ability to grow and spread. The same strategy has been successful in the treatment of acute promyelocytic leukemia.

Therefore, Dr. Hu’s team hopes the proposed therapy will be successful in the treatment of this deadly pediatric brain cancer.

About Hu lab: The Hu lab is interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms of brain tumor evolution, including tumor development, progression, and recurrence after treatment; and developing new strategies for the treatment of these devastating diseases. The Hu lab is well-supported by the National Institutes of Health, private foundations, the University of Pittsburgh, UPMC Children’s, and UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.

About the RK Mellon Institute: The RK Mellon Institute was established in 2007 with a groundbreaking gift from the Richard King Mellon Foundation. A cornerstone of UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh’s research program, the Institute’s aim is to facilitate coordination, communication, and mentorship of scientists across disciplines and career stages, and to be a leader in pediatric health care.