People

The Daniel E. Ponton Fund for the Neurosciences has generously supported the work of the following researchers and clinicians.

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Nathalie Y.R. Agar, PhD
Personalizing brain tumor treatment through imaging

Surgery remains the primary form of treatment for brain tumors, and a patient’s prognosis is connected to how much of the tumor is removed while minimizing damage to the brain during tumor removal. Nathalie Y.R. Agar, PhD, director of the Clinical Spectroscopy Laboratory at BWH, and the first recipient of support from the Ponton Fund, and her team are harnessing the power of the latest imaging technology to detect the margins of a brain tumor at the molecular level. They are also developing new ways to analyze tumor properties during surgery to hone personalized treatment approaches. Dr. Agar’s research has the potential to improve the tailoring of tumor treatment from diagnosis to surgery to follow up therapy.

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Edward R. Laws, MD
Trial offers new hope for patients

TMZ (temozolomide), a chemotherapy agent, is the first drug in 30 years to aggressively and effectively treat malignant glioblastomas—the most malignant type of brain tumor. With support from the Ponton Fund, Edward R. Laws, MD, a neurosurgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and director of the Pituitary and Neuroendocrine Center, is seeking to harness the potential of this new treatment and is studying the use of TMZ on aggressive and malignant pituitary tumors when standard therapies fail. He has reported promising results, specifically noting a clinical trial surveying seven patients with aggressive pituitary tumors. Laws was able to demonstrate conclusively that TMZ works effectively for patients with these often deadly variants of aggressive and malignant pituitary tumors for which prior therapies, including both chemotherapy and radiation, have proved to be completely ineffective. Laws hopes his work will pave the way for similar investigations into other types of primary brain tumors.

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Allan Roper, MD
Charting a Unique Course for Neuro Education

Allan Ropper, MD, BWH’s executive vice chair of Neurology, has taken his expertise in neurologic and cerebrovascular critical care to the classroom. Ropper has developed a course to teach neurologists from around the world high-level current practice in the main neurologic intensive-care diseases, including cerebral hemorrhage, stroke, head and spine trauma, and status epilepticus. The course presents a coherent view of existing practice that is based partly in results of clinical trials. The Ponton Fund’s support helped underwrite this unique three-day course featuring hands-on instruction using special mannequins to teach the insertion of certain catheters into veins, arteries, and the ventricles of the brain.

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Mark D. Johnson, MD, PhD
Blocking cancer pathways

Research shows the growth and invasion of many cancers, including glioblastoma, are accelerated by a certain cell regulator known as SNAI2, or “Slug.” A team led by Mark Johnson, MD, PhD, recently discovered that Slug regulates the activity of several cancer pathways not previously known to be controlled by this protein. More importantly, they have found that drugs that block these pathways deter glioblastoma cell invasion in the brain and decrease breast cancer metastasis to the lung in lab models—important discoveries that could lead to new treatments for many malignant cancers.

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Alexander Ropper, MD
Harnessing the power of Stem Cells

Together with the Brain Science Foundation, the Ponton Fund is helping support a team of investigators, led by Alexander Ropper, MD, and Ted Teng, MD, PhD, as they attempt to harness the power of stem cells to treat tumors of the spinal cord called gliomas, a potentially fatal condition. They seek to use neural stem cells, which have a unique ability to track cancer cells. Work by the team has demonstrated that the stem cells can be genetically engineered to carry chemotherapy drugs, which will home in on the glioma, kill the cancer cells, and spare healthy tissue. This research represents the first multidisciplinary approach to tackle the disease of primary spinal cord tumors.

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Rose Du, MD, PhD
Stroke studies to predict risks of aneurysm ruptures

Stroke research is the specialty of neurosurgeon Rose Du, MD, PhD, who is both a surgeon and a scientist. The Ponton Fund helped Du support residents in two major stroke projects, helping advance important research as well as the training of young residents. Currently, the only factor physicians use in determining whether an aneurysm will rupture is its size. However, the reality is more complex. Du’s goal is to be able to determine the likelihood that an aneurysm will rupture, and thus when it is best to provide surgical treatment.

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Rona Carroll, PhD, and Lata Menon, PhD
First BWH Gene Therapy Clinical Trial

Glioblastoma is one of the most aggressive and treatment-resistant of all human cancers. The median survival rate for these patients remains only nine to 15 months from the time of diagnosis. Rona Carroll, PhD, and her colleague Lata Menon, PhD, of the BWH Department of Neurosurgery are creating a cell-based system to target invading tumor cells and to deliver treatment to inhibit recurrence of glioblastoma. Gene therapy studies aim to help patients with brain tumors live longer. The Ponton Fund helped launch this gene therapy brain tumor clinical trial, the first of its kind at BWH.