From: San Fransisco, USA
Category: Molecular Medicine
Title of essay:The Neural Regulation of Cancer: Cancers hijack mechanisms of neural plasticity to promote malignant disease progression
Humsa Venkatesh received her undergraduate degree in Chemical Biology from the University of California, Berkeley and her PhD in Cancer Biology from Stanford University. She is currently completing her postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University. Her research combines principles of neuroscience and cancer biology to understand the electrical components of cancer pathophysiology. Humsa discovered the relationship between the bioelectric activity of neurons and tumor growth and further identified a therapeutic target which, when inhibited, stagnates tumor growth in vivo. She aims to build her career leading the advancement of this novel field by studying the neural regulation of cancer and investigating the specific neural circuits whose aberrant activity contributes to disease progression. Her ultimate goal is to harness these microenvironmental dependencies of tumors for future therapeutic interventions.
Electrical activity shapes brain organogenesis as well as the behavior of persistent populations of neural precursor cells in the healthy brain. In the context of cancer, we hypothesized that this neurodevelopmental principle may similarly inform tumor progression. My research has uncovered the relationship between neuronal activity and glioma growth by identifying activity-dependent mitogen secretion, synaptic neurotransmission, and gap junction-mediated electrical coupling as novel mechanisms controlling glioma development. This work demonstrates, for the first time, the critical role of neurons in the brain tumor micro-environment: electrical circuit integration of glioma promotes its progression and may be harnessed for therapy.