Neuro-oncologist Howard Fine wins $6 million NIH Director's Pioneer Award

Prestigious prize highlights promising new direction in brain cancer research at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian.
By Bernie Monegain
01:53 PM
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Howard A. Fine, MD. Photo by John Abbott

Howard A. Fine, MD, of Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian has been awarded a five-year, $6 million National Institutes of Health Director's Pioneer Award for brain cancer research.

The award goes to the principal investigator who has demonstrated exceptional creativity and is pursuing a bold new research strategy against a major biomedical challenge.

It is the first Pioneer Award received by Weill Cornell Medicine. It will support Fine's work modeling deadly brain cancers in the laboratory. It’s an approach that could contribute to the development of effective therapies.

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Weill Cornell Medicine operates a brain cancer research program and also the Brain Tumor Center at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical

"The innovative and groundbreaking work he is performing in the lab is making real strides towards developing more effective treatments for patients facing this deadly disease,” Steven J. Corwin, MD, president and CEO of NewYork-Presbyterian, said in a statement.

As Fine sees it, the award will enable researchers to pursue a brain cancer modeling strategy that represents a bold departure from traditional approaches – one that could lead to scientific advances in treatments for patients. Fine and his colleagues have been using advanced stem cell techniques to grow large clusters of functional and interconnected human brain cells, called cerebral organoids.

Cerebral organoids, with their brain-like environments, have enabled Fine and his colleagues to model brain cancers more accurately. They also have revealed some of the strange, emergent properties of brain cancers that are not visible in traditional models.

Part of Fine's organoid-based research will include the development of personalized brain-cancer models using cerebral organoids derived from the cells of patients. The researchers hope it will lead to the development of precision medicine treatment strategies – drugs that can shrink patients’ tumors.

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Email the writer: bernie.monegain@himssmedia.com