Timothy R. Gershon, MD, PhD, and Vivian Gama, PhD, have been announced as the 2015 recipients of the Weatherspoon Family Brain Tumor Research Award.

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Timothy R. Gershon, MD, PhD, and Vivian Gama, PhD

Dr. Gershon, an assistant professor in the UNC School of Medicine Department of Neurology and a UNC Lineberger member, is being recognized for his research exploring why radiation therapy works for some people with medulloblastoma, the most common malignant tumor type in children, and not in others.

Using a technique for giving radiation therapy to genetically-altered mice, he and his colleagues were able to show that medulloblastomas respond to radiation if their “self-destruct” system is intact. Unlike other cancers, medulloblastomas usually lack mutations that completely block the mechanisms of cell death. This work was published in a 2013 paper in the Journal of Neuroscience and a second manuscript is currently in review. Work is ongoing in his lab to determine how mutations that make medulloblastomas radiation-resistant can be targeted.

Dr. Gama, a postdoctoral fellow with the UNC Neuroscience Center in the lab of Mohanish Deshmukh, PhD, a professor in the UNC School of Medicine Department of Cell Biology and Physiology, was part of a group that made the discovery of a new mechanism for how neurons and brain cancer cells avoid self-destruction. They identified a protein called PARC as the agent responsible for degrading cytochrome c, a key trigger of cell death. She led the experiments in cell cultures and in animals for the study, which was published in Science Signaling last year. Their work also identified PARC as a new therapeutic target.

“These researchers are involved in groundbreaking research that has the potential to lead to improved brain tumor treatments and new treatment targets,” said Matthew Ewend, MD, chair of the Department of Neurosurgery, which gives the research award. “They are truly deserving of this recognition for their efforts, which could improve the lives of many.”

The Weatherspoon Family Brain Tumor Research Award was created in 2011 to honor Van Weatherspoon of Charlotte. It recognizes his ongoing commitment and years of service to UNC-Chapel Hill and its brain tumor program.