New grant enabling U of M research team to look at brain cancer on a cell-by-cell basis

MD/PhD student Olivia Smith working in the Venteicher Lab

Each year, the V Foundation for Cancer Research invites NCI-designated cancer centers nationwide to nominate researchers for two grant categories – Translational and V Scholar – for funding consideration. The V Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Committee, which includes world-class researchers from leading cancer centers, reviews and recommends the most promising projects for funding. This rigorous process ensures proposals meet the highest standards of scientific merit.

Andrew Venteicher, MD, PhDDuring the most recent round of funding reviews, Neurosurgery Department Assistant Professor and Neurosurgical Director of the Center for Skull Base and Pituitary Surgery Andrew Venteicher (pictured here), MD, PhD, tied for the Martin D. Abeloff Scholar Award, which recognizes the highest reviewer-scored V Scholar grant recipient. As a result, Venteicher and his research group received $200,000 over the two years of the grant.

“The V Foundation supports high-risk, high-reward research,” he said. “They know that paradigm-shifting work is needed for these aggressive brain cancers. They also do an excellent job of interfacing between the scientists and those who want to fund such groups.”

Venteicher’s research team is using the V Foundation funds to look at intra-tumoral heterogeneity – cell-by-cell differences in brain cancer. “A big focus in brain cancer research has been to compare one type of tumor among many patients, answering questions such as how are they different and why do certain patients get better,” he said. “A more recent focus is to look at an individual’s tumor cell by cell to see if we can identify differences that could influence patient outcomes.”

To do this work, the research team is using new genomic technology. “It enables us to determine how each cell behaves based on its gene expression,” said Venteicher. While this approach requires special resources, the team carefully selects only those patients from whom they can derive biological meaning. “We’ve done this for a good number of patients, both those who had good treatment outcomes and those whose prognosis wasn’t as good,” said Venteicher. “By looking at the cell-by-cell signatures, we’re trying to find out why.”

Venteicher’s team includes Danielle Brotto, PhD, who is leading the assessment of how changes in DNA structure can provide insights into the questions they are trying to answer; and Olivia Smith (MD/PhD student) and Jesus Garcia (computational biologyPhD student), who are working on the single-cell genomics research.

The team will use the resulting data to discover new clinical testing for the next patient with the same type of cancer. “We want to be able to predict which patients are high- or low-risk for progression,” said Venteicher. “The second arc of our research is more fundamental – developing new insights into how these cancers form in the first place. We hope to understand which treatments patients would most benefit from.”

This work also propels the research team in a new direction so they can apply for future National Institutes of Health grants based on their initial data.


The V Foundation for Cancer Research was founded in 1993 by ESPN and the late Jim Valvano, legendary North Carolina State University basketball coach and ESPN commentator. The V Foundation has funded nearly $290 million in game-changing cancer research grants nationwide through a competitive process strictly supervised by a world-class Scientific Advisory Committee. Because the V Foundation has an endowment to cover administrative expenses, 100% of direct donations is awarded to cancer research and programs. The V team is committed to accelerating Victory Over Cancer®.

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