Pitt Brain Tumor Expert Awarded Prestigious Research Grant

By: Ana Gorelova

A University of Pittsburgh expert in aggressive brain tumors is one of five scientists awarded a prestigious 2022 Distinguished Scientist Award from the Sontag Foundation. Dr. Sameer Agnihotri, an assistant professor of neurological surgery who directs Pitt’s Brain Tumor Biology and Therapy Lab, was recognized for his research on pediatric brain tumors.

Dr. Sameer Agnihotri

Despite decades of research, brain tumors remain the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in children. Of all brain cancers, diffuse midline gliomas (DMG) and diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas (DIPG)—tumors buried deep inside the brain—are especially deadly.

But those tumor cells may have a special vulnerability that could be exploited for therapeutic benefit. Agnihotri’s research revealed that a mutation in proteins that provide structural support to the DNA makes DMG and DIPG cells particularly vulnerable to depletion of methionine, an amino acid building block essential for making up proteins.

“Support from the Sontag Foundation will allow us to interrogate the role of methionine metabolism on glioma growth,” said Agnihotri. “If our hypothesis is correct, targeting DMG cell metabolism by dietary interventions or small molecule inhibitors could become a mainstay therapy in brain tumors.”

The Sontag Distinguished Scientist Award provides $600,000 in funding over four years to outstanding scientists whose pioneering research has the potential to make significant impact in the field of brain cancer.

The Sontag Foundation is the largest funder of brain cancer research in North America. The foundation was established in 2002 by Frederick and Susan Sontag following Susan’s battle with a normally lethal form of brain cancer. To date, the foundation has granted $55 million in funding to support brain cancer research. In 2014, the organization established The Brain Tumor Network to provide free navigation services for patients with brain tumors, helping to connect them to brain cancer specialists, second opinions and clinical trials.