Radiology Professor, Now Fulbright Scholar, Will Study the Molecular Markers of Brain Tumors

Dr. Malgorzata Marjanska (Submitted photo)

Malgorzata Marjanska, PhD, a professor in the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Department of Radiology performing research at the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (CMRR), is a 2021 Fulbright U.S. Scholar, a prestigious research opportunity supported by the U.S. Department of State and the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. Since its establishment in 1946, the Fulbright Program has enabled more than 390,000 dedicated and accomplished individuals of all backgrounds to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and find solutions to shared international concerns.

Dr. Marjanska develops magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) techniques for humans and rodents and applies those techniques to study neurochemical and metabolic alterations in various diseases, like Alzheimer’s disease and depression, as well in brain tumors and during aging. The Fulbright Scholar award makes it possible for her to partner closely with colleagues at the Center for NeuroImaging Research (CENIR) at the Institut du Cerveau et de la Moelle épinière – ICM, Paris, France for six months, where she will expand on her research at CMRR on gliomas, or brain and spinal tumors.

“Each body part has its own metabolic signature. The brain has many more metabolites that we can see with MRS, than the other regions of the body. In my research, I have been mostly focusing on the brain,” Dr. Marjanska said. 

Certain molecules are associated with a very specific mutation in glioma, which cause significant mortality and morbidity. Recently, Dr. Marjanska and her French colleagues observed an unexpected metabolic signal and identified it as cystathionine, becoming the first group in the world to show this in vivo. 

The team identified this specific molecule while looking at data from patients with brain tumors and focusing on a different molecule, D-2-hydroxyglutarate (2HG). Dr. Marjanska noticed that aspects of the data weren’t fitted correctly with their model, saying, “I kept looking at our data and thinking that there has to be something different about these patients.”

Now, thanks to her Fulbright Award, the team will be able to extend their research while working together in person. “I think of it as a great opportunity to work with people on a daily basis with whom I've worked remotely for many years. To have everyday contact and discussion, rather than a weekly remote meeting. It’s a building experience,” Dr. Marjanska said. 

In general, mutations in the isocitrate dehydrogenase (IDH) genes in cerebral gliomas are important diagnostic and prognostic indicators. IDH mutations cause accumulation of 2HG in tumor cells, and its mutation status is a key genetic feature in glioma classification, which helps clinicians to determine the appropriate therapeutic strategy.

Dr. Marjanska and her team’s new study will focus on developing and translating their experimental methods of detection for 2HG and cystathionine in human glioma for clinical use.

“The Fulbright project capitalizes on and extends our previous work on brain tumors to refine and develop new methods for detection and quantification of these metabolites. It also takes our work from a research environment to a clinical environment,” Dr. Marjanska said. These methods, after incorporation into routine clinical practice, can be used for diagnosis, prognosis and monitoring treatment response, providing better care for patients with brain tumors.

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