"The Sontag Foundation Distinguished Scientist Award will give me significant support at a critical time in my research career. Specifically, this funding will allow me to spend a major portion of my time pursuing a new area of investigation into the biology of neural precursor cells."

- Dr. Cynthia Wetmore

Academic Appointments

  • Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Emory University School of Medicine/ Director, Innovative Therapy
  • Phase I Program Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center
  • Director, Center for Clinical and Translational Research, Emory+Children's Pediatric Research Center
  • Pediatric oncologist, Emory Winship Cancer Institute

About DSA-Funded Research

Modulation of neural progenitor cell fate determination by Shh and BMP signaling pathways

One of the major challenges in biology of the post-genome era is to determine the function of genes within the complex biology of the organism and their relevance to human disease. The field of stem cell biology in the nervous system is one such area of intense interest to researchers in fields of developmental neurobiology, cancer and regenerative medicine. This research proposal sets forth to investigate how a single signaling molecule can result in several different biologic consequences depending upon the cell type that receives the signal. We are especially interested in the developmental gene, Sonic hedgehog, which is known to promote proliferation of normal neural stem cells and also is found to be misregulated in some pediatric brain tumors. We will investigate the temporal-spatial relationships among developmental signaling pathways in directing the fate of stem cells in normal brain, and also to address whether these cells become altered through genetic mutation and act as "tumor stem cells". We propose a series of studies to visualize the proliferation and movements of neuronal precursors that have been tagged with a virus containing a fluorescent marker. We have already identified several candidate genes by differential gene expression analyses of mouse models and primary pediatric brain tumors. Using a microscope equipped to detect the fluorescent molecules, we will visualize the migration of virus-tagged cells in living tissue using time-lapse photography and determine if forced expression of a candidate tumor genes can alter the development of the nervous system. Through the identification of pathways exploited by neoplastic cells in the nervous system, we will develop insight into potential targets for specific therapeutic intervention with the goal of improving the lives of children battling brain tumors.

Accolades

"In addition to Cynthia's scientific excellence? she is very bright, exceptionally hardworking, and extremely dedicated. I believe Cynthia has a bright future ahead of her."

David H. Gutmann, M.D., Ph.D.
Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis

"In the short time she has been here [Mayo Clinic], Cynthia has proven her abilities and established herself as a major asset. Coming in, she clearly had all of the academic tickets: excellent academic pedigree, high native intelligence, creativity and motivation, and she has demonstrated both her independence as a scientist and her assiduous work ethic."

Franklyn G. Prendergast, M.D., Ph.D.
Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, Rochester

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