The evolution of transcriptional cellular state dynamics in recurrent glioblastoma

Calgary pathologist will use new award to map brain cancer, bring new hope to patients

University of Calgary neuropathologist and cancer researcher Dr. Ana Nikolic will use a new Clinician-Scientist Award from the Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network to better map glioblastomas with the hopes of understanding how each cell contributes to therapy resistance and recurrence.

“Over the last few years, we’ve come to understand that glioblastoma is heterogenous and that different cells in the tumours change their behaviour and shift into different identities to evade therapy, but we don’t know why this happens and if there are specific ways to stop these cells from doing this,” explains the early-career clinician-scientist who studies this lethal form of brain cancer.  “I want to map the states of the glioblastoma cells in primary and recurrent tumours, to understand how these tumour cells behave in different geographic parts of the tumour, how they interact with non-tumour cells around them, and how this changes once the tumour has been treated.”

“Ultimately, we need to understand how each cell within the tumour works, in order to find better ways to target them.”

Using samples derived from patients treated within the Prairie Cancer Research Consortium (PR2C), Dr. Nikolic will draw on new technologies and work with world-class experts in the PR2C to further her brain cancer research. This support will allow her to use a range of techniques to profile areas in and around patient tumours, while also employing mouse models to see the specific roles that different glioblastoma cells play in tumour growth and recurrence.

“These studies will help to understand how glioblastoma changes to escape current therapies, improve our ability to determine which patients will respond to therapy, and hopefully help to build new treatments to target relapsed tumours,” says Dr. Nikolic, adding that the the overlying goal of the project is to shine new light on a cancer that has remained elusive to researchers for years.

“As a neuropathologist, I see these cancers weekly and it’s heartbreaking to know that we still have so little to offer with respect to treatment,” says Dr. Nikolic. “We really need to find a way to bring new hope to these patients.”

The $225,000 award will last three years and can be matched by the University of Calgary to total $450,000. Dr. Nikolic is one of four inaugural award recipients.