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Erica Braverman, MD, Awarded Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation Young Investigator Grant

December 22, 2021

Erica Braverman, MD, Instructor of Pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, was awarded a 2021 Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation Young Investigator Award.

This three-year, $150,000 grant will support Dr. Braverman’s research to improve pediatric immunotherapy cancer treatments, particularly chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy, which has the potential to be more effective than traditional chemotherapy and eliminate associated long-term side effects. 

Dr. Braverman’s research is largely focused on how upregulation of the AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) pathway may lead to improved, more durable responses in CAR-T cell therapy for leukemia and other cancers.

Her research also involves areas of investigation related to improving T cell function and metabolic fitness to better fight and destroy cancer cells. 

Preliminary studies by Dr. Braverman have shown that upregulation of the AMPK pathway in T cells can make them more metabolically efficient. AMPK is an enzyme that functions as a cellular energy sensor and regulates specific metabolic pathways within activated cells. AMPK plays a number of roles in the metabolic choices of T cells, working to promote and enhance metabolic fitness to support function and survival.

“CAR T cell therapy has shown promise for some patients, but one of the challenges has been the durability of response, and this is in part related to issues of T cell metabolism," says Dr. Braverman. “If we can improve durability of CAR T cells, we may be able to not only improve response rates in certain leukemias, but also create a better understanding of how CAR T cell therapy may be applied to combat solid tumors, where this therapy has yet to show much efficacy."

Additionally, Dr. Braverman will work to more fully explore the role of AMPK within human T cells. Her research aims to better understand which pathways are being activated downstream of AMPK during T cell activation, and how these pathways affect T cell metabolism and function.

Dr. Braverman’s study also will test novel AMPK agonists from the University of Pittsburgh Drug Discovery Institute to see if any of these agents have efficacious effects.

More About Dr. Braverman

Erica Braverman, MD, is an Instructor of Pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at UPMC Children's. She earned her medical degree from Brown University and completed her residency training in combined Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at Strong Memorial Hospital at the University of Rochester Medical Center. During residency, Dr. Braverman joined the laboratory of Dr. Jessica Shand in the Division of Pediatric Oncology, where she studied the effects of leukemia-derived alarmin signals on T cell exhaustion.

Dr. Braverman's pediatric hematology/oncology fellowship was completed at UPMC Children's, where she conducted research and continues to be a member in the laboratory of Craig Byersdorfer, MD, PhD. During fellowship, and in the Byersdorfer Lab, Dr. Braverman began to study ways to improve CAR-T cell therapy through controlling underlying T cell metabolism.

Dr. Braverman was awarded numerous research and scholarship awards during her medical training. She was selected as a summer research fellow at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center between her first and second year of medical school. With a growing interest in cancer immunotherapy research, Dr. Braverman applied for and was selected to join the prestigious HHMI-NIH Research Scholars Program between her third and fourth years of medical school. She is a past recipient of the American Society of Hematology HONORS Next Generation Physician Scientist Award during her residency training.

At UPMC Children's and the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Braverman was funded through the Cancer Immunology Training Program T32, was named a Burrough's Wellcome Scholar, and also secured research funding through the prestigious UPMC Children's Scholar's Program. More recently Dr. Braverman was honored with a 2020 St. Baldricks Fellowship award, and earlier in 2021, she was awarded a Hyundai Hope on Wheels® Young Investigator grant to advance her immunotherapy and CAR T cell research.

Recent Publications

Braverman EL, Waltz G, Byersdorfer CA. Immunometabolism in Haematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation and Adoptive Cellular Therapies. Curr Opin Hematol. 2020; 27(6): 353–359.

Braverman EL, Byersdorfer CA. Increasing AMPK Activity Supports Enhanced Oxidative Metabolism, Proliferation, and In Vitro Recovery of Human CD4 T Cells [abstract]. In: J Immunol. 2020; 204 (1 Supplement): 240.2-240.2.