Jorg Dietrich, MMSc MD PhD, is the Director of the Cancer & Neurotoxicity Clinic and Brain Repair Research Program at the MGH Cancer Center, and Assistant Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School. His clinical interests are the management of patients with brain tumors and neurologic complications of cancer therapy. His research activities include clinical, translational and basic research in the fields of brain tumor biology, neurotoxicity and brain repair mechanisms. He is author of over 100 publications, including original research articles, review papers, book chapters and other scientific contributions. His work has been supported by the NIH, the American Cancer Society, and the American Academy of Neurology.
My main research focus has been the study of neural precursor cell biology in the context of neurological disease. Our work has shown that abnormal progenitor and stem cell function is underlying diverse neurological diseases, including leukodystrophies, viral infections, brain cancer and neurotoxicity following cancer therapy. Abnormal neural progenitor cell function has also tremendous implications for our understanding of conditions with chronic and progressive neurological impairment, such as neurodegenerative diseases.
An important area of our current investigation is the study of the cell-biological basis of neurotoxicity following cancer treatment. We were able to demonstrate that lineage-committed progenitor cells belong to the most sensitive cell populations to chemotherapy. These studies have provided the foundation for the development of neuroprotective and cellular repair strategies that are currently being assessed for their application in clinical trials.
Another focus of our current research studies is the characterization of the neurovascular niche. Neurogenesis and gliogenesis, the generation of new neurons and glia cells, occur in well-defined 'niches' composed of neural stem cells, progenitors, astrocytes, and vascular components. The neurovascular niche is therefore characterized by a intersection between neuroectodermal and mesenchymal cell system. The neurovascular niche is critically important in the formation of brain tumors, in treatment resistance and in tumor progression. Our studies aim to provide novel insights into the unique interplay between mesenchymal and neuroectodermal tissues and to identify novel therapeutic targets for tumor therapy and novel strategies to enhance endogenous brain repair.
A study from MGH Cancer Center researchers – the first to examine the effects of combined radiation and chemotherapy on the healthy brain tissue of glioblastoma patients – reveals not only specific structural changes within patients’ brains but also that the effect of cancer therapy on the normal brain appears to be progressive and continues even after radiation therapy has ceased.