Our lab is interested in two main research directions: brain injury, and pediatric brain tumors.
1) Brain cancers are a frequent and devastating cause of cancer death in children. Interestingly, high grade gliomas occur in a remarkable spatiotemporal pattern: When found in older children and young adults, glioblastomas typically develop in the cortex, while in mid childhood they develop in the brain stem. Our working model is that glial cells in each brain region are specialized and thus able to foster the growth of these tumors at these specific brain locations within a restricted time frame. In our experiments we have already been able to establish that microglial cells from the brain stem are better suited for pediatric tumors of brain stem origin. Based on this, we have established a large scale screen for genes involved in this process and are currently testing gene candidates.
2) Brain injury results in rapid activation of the neuroinflammatory response. Two of the major cellular components of this response are microglia and astrocytes. Activation of both populations is important in order to minimize brain tissue damage, most importantly minimizing neuronal cell loss. Evidence regarding the nature of microglia and astrocyte activation arising from different experimental models is puzzling; molecular alterations following activation of different pathways in these cells either improves or diminishes neuronal survival. In our work we study the understanding mechanism by which astrocytes and microglia communicate and influence neuroinflammation and neuronal cell loss.