CERN x RCD Seed Grant Launches New $3M Ependymoma Research Project

This first appeared on CERN.

Discoveries from the 2020 CERN Robert Connor Dawes Pediatric Fellowship, supported by the National Brain Tumor Society, to Dr. Chan Chung in Dr. Sriram Venneti’s laboratory at the University of Michigan, were instrumental in helping to win an esteemed $3 million R01 grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

The grant, titled “Targeting integrated metabolic and epigenetic pathways in childhood ependymomas,” aims to address significant gaps in our understanding of posterior fossa ependymomas (PFAs) and lay the groundwork to develop effective treatments.

Despite decades of clinical trials, mainstay treatment for childhood posterior fossa (PF) group A (PFA) ependymomas still remains highly toxic radiation and chemotherapy that is not curative. One of the fundamental mechanisms driving cancer cell survival and growth is reprogramming of metabolism.

“From a valuable 2020 CERN Robert Connor Dawes Pediatric Fellowship awarded to our laboratory, we discovered that metabolic pathways are intimately related to epigenetic modifications in PFA ependymomas (Panwalkar et al. Science Translational Medicine 2021 and as also shown by Michaelraj et al. Cell 2020),” Dr. Venneti said. “Based on these findings, we hypothesize that targeting these interrelated metabolic and epigenetic pathways will be therapeutic for childhood PFA ependymomas. Funding secured from the NCI/NIH based on our discoveries will enable us carefully dissect out these pathways and use this knowledge to develop effective therapies for these devastating pediatric brain tumors.”

“Engaging in rare disease research requires a unique strategy and is not a one-size-fits-all approach,” shared Executive Director Kim Wallgren. “One key strategy for the CERN Foundation is to identify and invest in cutting-edge research efforts that have the potential to go beyond the initial seed grant opportunity. We have demonstrated routine success utilizing this strategy with the CERN Fellowship Program by engaging the best and brightest early career scientists in ependymoma research. This effort wouldn’t be possible without the support of our dedicated scientific advisory team that helps to select premier candidates and our partner Robert Connor Dawes Foundation.”

An “R01” grant is the traditional mechanism used by the National Institutes of Health and NCI to fund biomedical research. As the leading advocacy organization in the brain tumor community, NBTS consistently speaks up for increased government funding for brain tumor research grants, critical policy changes to support greater research, and more. Through initiatives like the annual Head to the Hill advocacy day on Capitol Hill, NBTS has led successful efforts to increase budgets at the NCI, which directly impacts the availability of R01 dollars. In fact, these efforts have contributed to an increase of over $100 million in annual funding from the NCI for brain tumor research since 2013.

The CERN Foundation, a program of the National Brain Tumor Society, invests in world-class scientific research efforts for a rare type of brain and spinal cord tumor called ependymoma. CERN will continue to update the ependymoma community on important advancements that come from the R01 grant. This investment is an important stride for the ependymoma community, demonstrating the importance of private philanthropy, public policy advocacy, government research funding, and team science converging to create a major opportunity for brain tumor researchers and paving the way for new treatment possibilities in the future.