Stanford University; (October 22, 2012 - Present): Postdoctoral Fellow.
Cancer Center Amsterdam, VUmc, Amsterdam The Netherlands (May 2008-July 2012): PhD
Hospital das Clinicas, Neurology Department, Belo Horizonte, Brazil (August – September 2007): IFMSA award for international internship.
Bicocca University of Medicine, Milan, Italy (October 2000-March 2007): MD
VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam The Netherlands, (March – December 2006); Erasmus Project: experimental medical thesis internship.
Hospital Universitario Central de Asturias, Pneumology Department, Oviedo, Spain (August 2004): IFMSA award for international internship.
Impington Village College, Cambridge, United Kingdom (September 1998 – May 2000): International Baccalaureate
Tito Livio Liceum, Milan, Italy (1994 – 1998): Classical Studies including Greek and Latin
Honors & Awards
First Class Honors, Salutatorian, and Valedictorian of International Students, Impington Village College (May 2000)
IFMSA Scholarship (Spain), International Federation of Medical Student’ Associations (Aug 2004)
IFMSA Scholarship (Brazil), International Federation of Medical Student’ Associations (Aug-Sept 2007)
Travel Award, WFN World Congress on Parkinson's Disease and Related Disorders (Dec 2007)
Best presentation award at the OOA, Annual Oncology Graduate School) Retreat (2010)
AICF fellowship, American Italian Cancer Foundation (not accepted)
Dean’s Postdoctoral Fellowship, Stanford University (July 2013- Jun 2014)
Grant Support Award, Child Health Research Institute (CHRI) (Aug 2013-Sept 2014)
SLIC Facilitator, Stanford Leaders in Communication (17 Jun 2014)
Fellowship, Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation (Aug 2014- July 2015)
Doctor of Philosophy, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (2012)
MD, Bicocca University, Faculty of Medicine, Milan, Medicine (2007)
Michelle Monje, Postdoctoral Faculty Sponsor
Neuronal Activity Promotes Glioma Growth through Neuroligin-3 Secretion
2015; 161 (4): 803-816
Active neurons exert a mitogenic effect on normal neural precursor and oligodendroglial precursor cells, the putative cellular origins of high-grade glioma (HGG). By using optogenetic control of cortical neuronal activity in a patient-derived pediatric glioblastoma xenograft model, we demonstrate that active neurons similarly promote HGG proliferation and growth in vivo. Conditioned medium from optogenetically stimulated cortical slices promoted proliferation of pediatric and adult patient-derived HGG cultures, indicating secretion of activity-regulated mitogen(s). The synaptic protein neuroligin-3 (NLGN3) was identified as the leading candidate mitogen, and soluble NLGN3 was sufficient and necessary to promote robust HGG cell proliferation. NLGN3 induced PI3K-mTOR pathway activity and feedforward expression of NLGN3 in glioma cells. NLGN3 expression levels in human HGG negatively correlated with patient overall survival. These findings indicate the important role of active neurons in the brain tumor microenvironment and identify secreted NLGN3 as an unexpected mechanism promoting neuronal activity-regulated cancer growth.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cell.2015.04.012
View details for Web of Science ID 000354175200014
Human pontine glioma cells can induce murine tumors
2014; 127 (6): 897-909
Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), with a median survival of only 9 months, is the leading cause of pediatric brain cancer mortality. Dearth of tumor tissue for research has limited progress in this disease until recently. New experimental models for DIPG research are now emerging. To develop preclinical models of DIPG, two different methods were adopted: cells obtained at autopsy (1) were directly xenografted orthotopically into the pons of immunodeficient mice without an intervening cell culture step or (2) were first cultured in vitro and, upon successful expansion, injected in vivo. Both strategies resulted in pontine tumors histopathologically similar to the original human DIPG tumors. However, following the direct transplantation method all tumors proved to be composed of murine and not of human cells. This is in contrast to the indirect method that included initial in vitro culture and resulted in xenografts comprising human cells. Of note, direct injection of cells obtained postmortem from the pons and frontal lobe of human brains not affected by cancer did not give rise to neoplasms. The murine pontine tumors exhibited an immunophenotype similar to human DIPG, but were also positive for microglia/macrophage markers, such as CD45, CD68 and CD11b. Serial orthotopic injection of these murine cells results in lethal tumors in recipient mice. Direct injection of human DIPG cells in vivo can give rise to malignant murine tumors. This represents an important caveat for xenotransplantation models of DIPG. In contrast, an initial in vitro culture step can allow establishment of human orthotopic xenografts. The mechanism underlying this phenomenon observed with direct xenotransplantation remains an open question.
View details for DOI 10.1007/s00401-014-1272-4
View details for Web of Science ID 000336273100008
View details for PubMedID 24777482
Role of CYB5A in Pancreatic Cancer Prognosis and Autophagy Modulation
JNCI-JOURNAL OF THE NATIONAL CANCER INSTITUTE
2014; 106 (1)
Loss of 18q22.3 is a prognostic marker in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). This study investigated genes encoded by this cytoband.We studied mRNA/protein expression in radically resected (n = 130) and metastatic patients (n = 50). The role of CYB5A was tested in 11 PDAC cell lines and five primary cultures through retrovirus-mediated upregulation and small interfering RNA using wound-healing, invasion, annexin-V, electron microscopy, and autophagic assays, as well as autophagy genes and kinases arrays. CYB5A+ orthotopic models (n = 6 mice/group) were monitored by Firefly and Gaussia-luciferase bioluminescence, magnetic resonance imaging, and high-frequency ultrasound. Data were analyzed by t test, Fisher exact-test, log-rank test and Cox proportional hazards models. All statistical tests were two-sided.Both resected and metastatic patients with low mRNA or protein expression of CYB5A had statistically significantly shorter survival (eg, median = 16.7 months, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 13.5 to 19.9; vs median = 24.8 months, 95% CI = 12.8 to 36.9; P = .02, two-sided log-rank test; n = 82 radically resected PDACs), and multivariable analyses confirmed prognostic relevance. Moreover, we characterized a novel function to CYB5A, autophagy induction, concomitant with reduced proliferation and migration/invasion of PDAC cells. Network analysis of proautophagic pathways suggested CYB5A interaction with TRAF6, which was confirmed by TRAF6 downregulation after CYB5A reconstitution (-69% in SU.86.86-CYB5A+; P = .005, two-sided t test). CYB5A silencing had opposite effects, restoring TRAF6 expression and wound healing. In vivo studies showed that CYB5A induced autophagy while inhibiting tumor growth/metastasis and increasing survival (median = 57 days, 95% CI = 52 to 61; vs median = 44 days, 95% CI = 21 to 57; P = .03, two-sided log-rank test).These results define CYB5A as a novel prognostic factor for PDAC that exerts its tumor-suppressor function through autophagy induction and TRAF6 modulation.
View details for DOI 10.1093/jnci/djt346
View details for Web of Science ID 000331891900006
View details for PubMedID 24301457
- Subventricular spread of diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma. Acta neuropathologica 2014
Crizotinib Inhibits Metabolic Inactivation of Gemcitabine in c-Met-driven Pancreatic Carcinoma
2013; 73 (22): 6745-6756
Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) remains a major unsolved health problem. Most drugs that pass preclinical tests fail in these patients, emphasizing the need of improved preclinical models to test novel anticancer strategies. Here, we developed four orthotopic mouse models using primary human PDAC cells genetically engineered to express firefly- and Gaussia luciferase, simplifying the ability to monitor tumor growth and metastasis longitudinally in individual animals with MRI and high-frequency ultrasound. In these models, we conducted detailed histopathologic and immunohistochemical analyses on paraffin-embedded pancreatic tissues and metastatic lesions in liver, lungs, and lymph nodes. Genetic characteristics were compared with the originator tumor and primary tumor cells using array-based comparative genomic hybridization, using frozen specimens obtained by laser microdissection. Notably, the orthotopic human xenografts in these models recapitulated the phenotype of human PDACs, including hypovascular and hypoxic areas. Pursuing genomic and immunohistochemical evidence revealed an increased copy number and overexpression of c-Met in one of the models; we examined the preclinical efficacy of c-Met inhibitors in vitro and in vivo. In particular, we found that crizotinib decreased tumor dimension, prolonged survival, and increased blood and tissue concentrations of gemcitabine, synergizing with a cytidine deaminase-mediated mechanism of action. Together, these more readily imaged orthotopic PDAC models displayed genetic, histopathologic, and metastatic features similar to their human tumors of origin. Moreover, their use pointed to c-Met as a candidate therapeutic target in PDAC and highlighted crizotinib and gemcitabine as a synergistic combination of drugs warranting clinical evaluation for PDAC treatment.
View details for DOI 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-13-0837
View details for Web of Science ID 000327321700020
View details for PubMedID 24085787
Implementation of a multi-institutional diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma autopsy protocol and characterization of a primary cell culture
NEUROPATHOLOGY AND APPLIED NEUROBIOLOGY
2013; 39 (4): 426-436
Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is a fatal paediatric malignancy. Tumour resection is not possible without serious morbidity and biopsies are rarely performed. The resulting lack of primary DIPG material has made preclinical research practically impossible and has hindered the development of new therapies for this disease. The aim of the current study was to address the lack of primary DIPG material and preclinical models by developing a multi-institutional autopsy protocol.An autopsy protocol was implemented in the Netherlands to obtain tumour material within a brief post mortem interval. A team of neuropathologists and researchers was available at any time to perform the autopsy and process the material harvested. Whole brain autopsy was performed and primary DIPG material and healthy tissue were collected from all affected brain areas. Finally, the study included systematic evaluation by parents.Five autopsies were performed. The mean time interval between death and time of autopsy was 3 h (range 2-4). All tumours were graded as glioblastoma. None of the parents regretted their choice to participate, and they all derived comfort in donating tissue of their child in the hope to help future DIPG patients. In addition, we developed and characterized one of the first DIPG cell cultures from post mortem material.Here we show that obtaining post mortem DIPG tumour tissue for research purposes is feasible with short delay, and that the autopsy procedure is satisfying for participating parents and can be suitable for the development of preclinical DIPG models.
View details for DOI 10.1111/j.1365-2990.2012.01294.x
View details for Web of Science ID 000318425900009
View details for PubMedID 22845849
WEE1 Kinase Inhibition Enhances the Radiation Response of Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Gliomas
MOLECULAR CANCER THERAPEUTICS
2013; 12 (2): 141-150
Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is a fatal pediatric disease. Thus far, no therapeutic agent has proven beneficial in the treatment of this malignancy. Therefore, conventional DNA-damaging radiotherapy remains the standard treatment, providing transient neurologic improvement without improving the probability of overall survival. During radiotherapy, WEE1 kinase controls the G(2) cell-cycle checkpoint, allowing for repair of irradiation (IR)-induced DNA damage. Here, we show that WEE1 kinase is one of the highest overexpressed kinases in primary DIPG tissues compared with matching non-neoplastic brain tissues. Inhibition of WEE1 by MK-1775 treatment of DIPG cells inhibited the IR-induced WEE1-mediated phosphorylation of CDC2, resulting in reduced G(2)-M arrest and decreased cell viability. Finally, we show that MK-1775 enhances the radiation response of E98-Fluc-mCherry DIPG mouse xenografts. Altogether, these results show that inhibition of WEE1 kinase in conjunction with radiotherapy holds potential as a therapeutic approach for the treatment of DIPG.
View details for DOI 10.1158/1535-7163.MCT-12-0735
View details for Web of Science ID 000314842700003
View details for PubMedID 23270927
Anatomical Differences Determine Distribution of Adenovirus after Convection-Enhanced Delivery to the Rat Brain
2011; 6 (10)
Convection-enhanced delivery (CED) of adenoviruses offers the potential of widespread virus distribution in the brain. In CED, the volume of distribution (Vd) should be related to the volume of infusion (Vi) and not to dose, but when using adenoviruses contrasting results have been reported. As the characteristics of the infused tissue can affect convective delivery, this study was performed to determine the effects of the gray and white matter on CED of adenoviruses and similar sized super paramagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIO).We convected AdGFP, an adenovirus vector expressing Green Fluorescent Protein, a virus sized SPIO or trypan blue in the gray and white matter of the striatum and external capsule of Wistar rats and towards orthotopic infiltrative brain tumors. The resulting Vds were compared to Vi and transgene expression to SPIO distribution. Results show that in the striatum Vd is not determined by the Vi but by the infused virus dose, suggesting diffusion, active transport or receptor saturation rather than convection. Distribution of virus and SPIO in the white matter is partly volume dependent, which is probably caused by preferential fluid pathways from the external capsule to the surrounding gray matter, as demonstrated by co-infusing trypan blue. Distant tumors were reached using the white matter tracts but tumor penetration was limited.CED of adenoviruses in the rat brain and towards infiltrative tumors is feasible when regional anatomical differences are taken into account while SPIO infusion could be considered to validate proper catheter positioning and predict adenoviral distribution.
View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0024396
View details for Web of Science ID 000295978600002
View details for PubMedID 22022354
Monitoring of Tumor Growth and Post-Irradiation Recurrence in a Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma Mouse Model
2011; 21 (4): 441-451
Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is a fatal malignancy because of its diffuse infiltrative growth pattern. Translational research suffers from the lack of a representative DIPG animal model. Hence, human E98 glioma cells were stereotactically injected into the pons of nude mice. The E98 DIPG tumors presented a strikingly similar histhopathology to autopsy material of a DIPG patient, including diffuse and perivascular growth, brainstem- and supratentorial invasiveness and leptomeningeal growth. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was effectively employed to image the E98 DIPG tumor. [(18) F] 3'-deoxy-3'-[(18) F]fluorothymidine (FLT) positron emission tomography (PET) imaging was applied to assess the subcutaneous (s.c.) E98 tumor proliferation status but no orthotopic DIPG activity could be visualized. Next, E98 cells were cultured in vitro and engineered to express firefly luciferase and mCherry (E98-Fluc-mCherry). These cultured E98-Fluc-mCherry cells developed focal pontine glioma when injected into the pons directly. However, the diffuse E98 DIPG infiltrative phenotype was restored when cells were injected into the pons immediately after an intermediate s.c. passage. The diffuse E98-Fluc-mCherry model was subsequently used to test escalating doses of irradiation, applying the bioluminescent Fluc signal to monitor tumor recurrence over time. Altogether, we here describe an accurate DIPG mouse model that can be of clinical relevance for testing experimental therapeutics in vivo.
View details for DOI 10.1111/j.1750-3639.2010.00468.x
View details for Web of Science ID 000292467800008
View details for PubMedID 21159008
Loss of thalamic serotonin transporters in early drug-naive Parkinson's disease patients is associated with tremor: an [I-123]beta-CIT SPECT study
JOURNAL OF NEURAL TRANSMISSION
2008; 115 (5): 721-729
In vitro studies revealed serotonin transporter (5-HTT) decline in Parkinson's disease (PD). Yet, few studies investigated thalamic 5-HTT in vivo and its effect on PD heterogeneity. We analyzed thalamic [(123)I]beta-CIT binding (mainly reflecting 5-HTT binding) in 32 drug-naïve PD patients and 13 controls with SPECT. Twenty-six patients were examined twice (17 months apart). Based on UPDRS scores, we identified subgroups of patients with moderate/severe tremor (PD(T)) and without tremor (PD(WT)) at the time of clinical diagnosis. Additionally, depressive symptoms were evaluated using the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) at baseline. Mean thalamic specific to non-specific [(123)I]beta-CIT binding ratio was lower in patients when compared to controls, and further decreased during follow-up. At baseline, average thalamic ratio was significantly lower in the PD(T) than in the PD(WT) subgroup. No correlation was found between BDI scores and thalamic binding ratios. Our findings show decline of [(123)I]beta-CIT binding to thalamic 5-HTT in PD and its possible contribution to tremor onset.
View details for DOI 10.1007/s00702-007-0015-2
View details for Web of Science ID 000256430700008
View details for PubMedID 18335163