Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation
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of childhood brain tumors
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PLGA Scientific Advisory Board

The research strategy and review of all research proposals for the PLGA Fund at the PBTF is guided by an External Scientific Advisory Committee and two Internal Advisory Members. We are grateful for these individuals and their commitment to helping find more effective treatments for children battling PLGA.


Bradley Bernstein, MD, PhD, Bernard and Mildred Kayden MGH Research Institute Chair; Professor of Pathology, Harvard Medical School; Institute Member, Broad Institute; American Cancer Society Research Professor.

Dr. Bernstein is a biologist and Professor of Pathology at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA. He is also the Director of the Epigenomics Program at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. Bernstein’s research focuses on epigenetics and specifically how modifications to the protein scaffold called chromatin contribute to mammalian development and human cancer. His work is notable for the identification of specialized chromatin structures that underlie stem cell pluripotency and aberrant epigenetic mechanisms that drive tumor initiation and drug resistance. Current work in the Bernstein lab spans a range of projects from technology development to cancer biology and therapeutic strategies. Key themes include: developing new technologies for mapping gene expression and chromatin modifications at the single cell and single molecule level; understanding cell fate decisions at fine resolution in development and disease; and investigating how genome and chromatin organization is aberrantly altered in cancer, and importantly, how these changes contribute to tumor biology.

Bernstein received his B.S. in physics from Yale University, and his Ph.D. and M.D. from the University of Washington School of Medicine.

Samuel C. Blackman, MD, PhD, Senior Medical Director, Juno Therapeutics, Inc., Seattle, WA.

Dr. Blackman is a physician-scientist trained in pediatric hematology-oncology and pediatric neuro-oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Children’s Hospital Boston. For the past 6 years he has been focused on the early clinical development of novel cancer therapeutics and has held various positions of increasing responsibility within the pharmaceutical industry. In his present role at Juno Therapeutics he is responsible for clinical development of novel immunotherapeutics for cancer, including chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapies and high-affinity T cell receptor (TCR) therapies. Prior to his current role he served as Head of Translational Medicine at Seattle Genetics where he was responsible for pre-clinical and early clinical development of novel antibody drug conjugate (ADC) therapeutics for cancer and lead a group of 30 physicians and scientists. Earlier he was a Director in the Oncology Early Development Unit at GlaxoSmithKline where he focused on the development of targeted therapeutics for cancer and also lead the pediatric development of GSKs BRAF and MEK inhibitors. While employed at Merck Research Laboratories, Dr. Blackman was Associate Director of Experimental Medicine/Oncology and was responsible for developing novel proof-of-concept platforms and clinical validation of biomarkers in association with several early stage drug development programs and designed the pediatric development strategy for Merck’s mTOR inhibitor program.

Dr. Blackman is a graduate of the pediatric residency program at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. He received his MD and PhD degrees at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine and Department of Pharmacology, and his undergraduate degree in philosophy from the University of Chicago.

Nada Jabado, MD, PhD , Professor of Pediatrics and Human Genetics, McGill University, The Research Institute of the McGill University Health Center, Montreal, QC, CANADA

Dr. Nada Jabado is a Professor of Pediatrics and staff physician at McGill University. She completed her residency in pediatrics with a specialization in hemato-oncology. She also obtained a PhD in Immunology in Paris, France, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship in biochemistry at McGill. She began her career as an independent investigator at McGill in 2003, pioneering a research program in pediatric brain tumors which is now unparalleled. Her group uncovered that pediatric high-grade astrocytomas (HGA) are molecularly and genetically distinct from adult tumors. More importantly, they identified a new molecular mechanism driving pediatric HGA, namely recurrent somatic driver mutations in the tail of histone 3 variants (H3.3 and H3.1).

Dr. Jabado’s ground-breaking work has created a paradigm shift in cancer with the identification of histone mutations in human disease which has revolutionized this field, as the epigenome was a previously unsuspected hallmark of oncogenesis, thus linking development and what we now know are epigenetic-driven cancers. This work and other publications are considered landmark papers (over 3000 citations since 2012). Dr. Nada Jabado has over 150 peer-reviewed publications to her credit, with an impressive number of senior-author, high-impact publications in such prominent journals as Nature Genetics, Nature, Science and Cancer Cell, to name a few. She is an international leader in the field of neuro-oncology/cancer, honored by invitations as s keynote speaker at top ranked symposia and universities. Dr. Jabado has received numerous national and international honors while garnering prestigious salary support awards throughout her career. She is one of the best-funded investigators in Canada, with grants from CIHR, Genome Canada, NIH as well as philanthropic organizations. She was recently inducted as a Fellow to the Royal Society of Canada and a member of the CIHR Governing Council.

Mark W. Kieran, MD, PhD Bristol-Myers Squibb

Dr. Kieran is Clinical Trial Lead, Pediatrics Program, Oncology Clinical Development, Bristol-Myers Squibb. He received his PhD in 1983 from the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, and his MD in 1986 from the University of Calgary. After a pediatric residency at McGill University in Montreal, he received postdoctoral education at Children’s Hospital Boston. Dr. Kieran became Director of Pediatric Medical Neuro-Oncology at Dana-Farber Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center in 1999.

Dr. Kieran’s primary research interest is the genomic identification of mutations and development of new targeted therapies for children with brain tumors. He has a particular focus on tumors of glial origin and the identification of the biology that leads to their growth. The focus of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Program that he chairs has been the initiation of early phase trials for these tumors based on the improved understanding of their biology and incorporation of personalized approaches such as targeted therapies, biologic therapies, immune therapy and gene therapy.

Dr. Kieran is a member of the Society for Neuro-Oncology, the Society of Pediatric Research, and the American Society for Clinical Oncology. He is the pediatric editor of Neuro-Oncology and serves on the Editorial Board of Child’s Nervous System. Dr. Kieran currently leads the Response Assessment in Pediatric NeuroOncology Committee (RAPNO), which is dedicated to improving the criteria on which new therapies are assessed.

Steven K. Libutti, MD, FACS, Director, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, Vice Chancellor for Cancer Programs, Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences. Senior Vice President, Oncology Services, RWJBarnabas Health Professor of Surgery, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School

Steven K. Libutti, MD, is one of the leaders in regional cancer therapy and tumor targeted gene therapy and is a recognized surgical oncologist and expert in endocrine surgery and in the management of neuroendocrine tumors. After graduating magna cum laude from Harvard College, Dr. Libutti received his medical degree from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University. He remained at Presbyterian Hospital in New York where he completed his residency in surgery, followed by a fellowship at the NCI in surgical oncology and endocrine surgery. He continued at the NCI where he became a tenured Senior Investigator and Chief of the Tumor Angiogenesis Section in the Surgery Branch.

Dr. Libutti is studying tumor neovascular formation and the interaction between tumor cells, endothelial cells and the components of the tumor microenvironment including fibroblasts and cancer stem cells. The goal of Dr. Libutti’s research program is to develop novel cancer therapies through a better understanding of the complex interactions within the tumor microenvironment.  He has published over 270 peer-reviewed journal articles, is Editor-in-Chief of the Nature Journal Cancer Gene Therapy, and holds seven U.S. patents. In addition to his laboratory and research interests, Dr. Libutti is an accomplished clinical surgeon. His clinical expertise is in the management of malignancies of the liver, pancreas, and GI tract, and in applying laparoscopic surgery to managing patients with malignancies. Dr. Libutti is the Director of the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the State’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Michelle Monje, MD, PhD, Stanford University, Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neuro-Oncology

Michelle Monje, MD, PhD joined the faculty at Stanford University in 2011 as an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neuro-Oncology. Following her undergraduate degree in biology at Vassar College, Dr. Monje received her MD and PhD in Neuroscience from Stanford University. She then completed neurology residency at the Massachusetts General Hospital/Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School program. She subsequently returned to Stanford for a clinical fellowship in pediatric neuro-oncology and a postdoctoral fellowship.

The scope of her research program encompasses the molecular determinants of neural precursor cell fate, neuronal-glial interactions, and the role of neural precursor cells in oncogenesis and repair mechanisms. As a practicing neurologist and neuro-oncologist, Dr. Monje is dedicated to understanding the neurodevelopmental origins of pediatric brain tumors and the neurological consequences of cancer treatment.


The PLGA Fund at PBTF’s internal advisors harken from the scientific field and volunteer their leadership in helping shape the overall prioritized agenda for investing in PLGA science across the world.

Evan Hecker, Spero Therapeutics

Evan Hecker, Ph.D. is currently the Director of API Development at Spero Therapeutics where he leads all drug substance development and manufacturing for the growing antibiotics pipeline at Spero. Prior to that he was Director of Process Chemistry at Karyopharm Therapeutics where he led the early clinical API development of their oncology portfolio. Evan started his career in drug development at Cubist Pharmaceuticals after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University. He received his B.S. in chemistry from The College of New Jersey and worked briefly in the pharmaceutical industry before returning to school to earn his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. He and his wife Cara have three very active young boys, and Evan has been supporting the mission of A Kids Brain Tumor Cure and now the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation since his eldest son, Nathan, was diagnosed with a low-grade tumor at 4 years old. He is eager to help leverage his drug industry experience and network to accelerate any and all research the Foundation supports and is committed to finding better drugs and outcomes for our kids battling brain tumors.

Cory Johannessen, Ph.D., Novartis Institutes of Biomedical Research

Cory Johannessen, Ph.D. is the Global Co-Leader of Oncology Innovative Targets and Technologies (IT&T) at the Novartis Institutes of Biomedical Research in Cambridge MA. In this role, Cory supports novel target and biology discovery for oncology indications, as well technology development in service of target discovery and validation.

Prior to taking this leadership role, Cory led a research lab focused on understanding the genetic underpinnings of drug resistance and identifying drug combinations that prevent it in the Cancer Program at the Broad Institute. There, Cory’s deeply collaborative research team helped develop and apply functional-genetic tools for biological discovery, including next-generation barcoding libraries, saturation mutagenesis techniques and genome-scale ORF/cDNA libraries.

Prior to starting his lab at the Broad, Cory completed his postdoc at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Levi Garraway’s lab from 2008-2011, and was an Instructor of Medicine from 2011-2014, concentrating on understanding mechanisms of resistance to RAF, MEK and ERK inhibitors in BRAF-mutant melanoma. Cory completed his dissertation in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences (Ph.D.) Program at Harvard Medical School with Karen Cichowski, focusing on identifying rational, targeted therapeutics for the cancer syndrome neurofibromatosis type I (NF1). Before beginning graduate school, Cory was a technician in Leif Ellison’s lab at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center.