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Kaitlin Stitz Awarded 2021 ABTA Lucien Rubinstein Award for ‘Overcoming Radioresistance in High Risk Pediatric Brain Tumors’

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Kaitlin Stitz, 2021 Lucien Rubinstein Award Recipient

The American Brain Tumor Association has awarded the 2021 Rubinstein Award to Kaitlin Stitz for her project, “Overcoming Radioresistance in High Risk Pediatric Brain Tumors”.

Kaitlin is a 2021 ABTA Jack & Fay Netchin Medical Student Summer Fellowship recipient and a third-year medical student at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

Her fellowship experience involved studying novel treatments to improve radiotherapy responses in pediatric medulloblastoma (MB). She worked under the mentorship of Vijay Ramaswamy, MD, PhD, a neuro-oncologist at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

Overcoming Pediatric Radioresistance

Current treatments for MB are limited to invasive surgery and radiation, and they often fail for certain subtypes of MB, such as the very high-risk subtype Sonic Hedgehog MB (SHH MB), which poses a major challenge to pediatric neuro-oncology. Kaitlin studied radioresistant SHH MB and tested drugs to potentially improve treatment outcomes for these high-risk tumors.

Kaitlin’s project started with creating cell culture models that mimic radiation resistant SHH MB. She screened 240 compounds of drugs called epigenetic modifiers, which alter how DNA is read and are already approved for clinical use in other diseases.

Kaitlin was able to identify two novel classes of drugs to significantly enhance the effect of radiation on the TP53 mutant of SHH MB, which the lab continues to investigate. 

Kaitlin’s mentor, Dr. Vijay Ramaswamy, praised her strong work ethic and ability to ask important questions.

Dr. Vijay Ramaswamy

“Kaitlin learns extremely quickly, and is a highly independent, self-motivated learner, She is very proud of her science and showed a true love for scientific investigation while in my laboratory.” 

— Dr. Vijay Ramaswamy

Kaitlin says the ABTA Medical Student Summer Fellowship experience was incredibly valuable for her developing career as a medical student. 

“The quality of collaboration and mentorship of the team in [Dr. Ramaswamy’s] lab has deeply engaged my interest in this field,” Kaitlin said. “I am now more inspired and appreciative of pediatric neuro-oncology because of this foundational experience.” 

Kaitlin says she looks forward to continuing this important research after being invited back to work in Dr. Ramaswamy’s lab this summer. 

About The Lucien Rubinstein Award 

The Lucien Rubinstein Award is given to the ABTA Medical Student Summer Fellowship recipient who scores the highest marks from a panel of expert scientific reviewers on his/her project’s final progress report. Recipients of this award receive $1,000 in recognition of their outstanding work. The award is named in honor of the late Lucien J. Rubinstein, MD, who was a pioneer in neuropathology at the University of Virginia and a world-renowned brain tumor researcher. 

The ABTA would like to thank the scientific reviewers for their insightful review of all the applications. For more information about research funded by the ABTA, click here.

Jessie Schlacks

Jessie Schlacks

Jessie is Managing Editor of the bi-monthly e-newsletter MindMatters. Submit story ideas or questions to jschlacks@abta.org.

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