Nduka M. Amankulor, MD
PHILADELPHIA – The Biden Cancer Moonshot named Nduka M. Amankulor, MD, an associate professor of Neurosurgery and director of the Penn Brain Tumor Center at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, a Cancer Moonshot Scholar this week. Amankulor is among 11 scholars included in the inaugural cohort of the program receiving a total of $5.4 million to support cancer research and innovation across the country. The grant will support Amankulor as he researches novel immune biomarkers, and whether they can predict a brain tumor’s responsiveness to therapy.
“Coming up with novel therapies for brain tumors is both a personal and professional endeavor for me. As a neurosurgeon and scientist, I am committed to brain tumor research. And because my own father died of brain cancer, I feel the need to move the needle more acutely,” says Amankulor. “It means the world to me to have our research supported directly by President Biden, who has also been personally affected by brain cancer, as he lost his son Beau to brain cancer eight years ago.”
Since opening his lab in 2012, Amankulor has explored the intersection between genetics and immune responses to brain cancer. His research focuses on how each cancer type has a unique way of “tricking” the immune system, called epigenetic immune suppression. Amankulor’s previous research found that many brain cancers, including those with mutations in a gene called IDH, trick the immune system into viewing cancer cells as normal brain cells. A major focus of Amankulor’s work is to make brain cancer cells “visible” to the human immune system. His laboratory has identified several targets and pathways that re-awaken immune responses in human brain malignancies, and the Cancer Moonshot Award will fund further research into whether they can track efficacy of these targets in real time using a wide array of immune biomarkers.
“The most effective cancer research involves leveraging diversity in all disciplines and perspectives. We are incredibly proud about the support of Dr. Amankulor from this Cancer Moonshot Initiative,” said Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, director of the Abramson Cancer Center at Penn Medicine. “Results from his research are expected to drive novel innovations in cancer treatment that will change patient’s lives for the better.”
Amankulor joined the neurosurgery faculty at Penn Medicine in 2021. He is a graduate of Yale University School of Medicine, where he completed his residency in neurosurgery at Yale New Haven Hospital. Most recently, Amankulor served as director of Neurosurgical Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He has published scholarly works in professional journals including Nature Cancer, Journal of Clinical Investigation, Clinical Cancer Research, Neurosurgery and many other leading journals.
The Cancer Moonshot Scholars program is designed to support early-career scientists, researchers, and innovators from diverse backgrounds, including from backgrounds that are underrepresented in the biomedical, clinical, behavioral, and social sciences research workforce. The Biden Administration intends to fund up to 30 additional Cancer Moonshot Scholars by 2025. The initial cohort of Cancer Moonshot Scholars is working to make progress in prostate, pancreatic, liver, lung, cervical, brain, and rectal cancers.
Amankulor will receive $683,099 for 2023. The grant number is 1R37CA284132-01.
Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, excellence in patient care, and community service. The organization consists of the University of Pennsylvania Health System and Penn’s Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine, founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school.
The Perelman School of Medicine is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $550 million awarded in the 2022 fiscal year. Home to a proud history of “firsts” in medicine, Penn Medicine teams have pioneered discoveries and innovations that have shaped modern medicine, including recent breakthroughs such as CAR T cell therapy for cancer and the mRNA technology used in COVID-19 vaccines.
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