Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Department of Neurological Surgery
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This page lists the Neurological Surgery labs by principal investigator. Learn about the broader goals for study within the labs, as well as details on individual faculty labs and teams.

 Ahmed Laboratory

Elucidating the mechanisms of therapeutic resistance to prevent recurrent in primary and metastatic brain cancer.

The Ahmed Laboratory focuses on understanding the evaluation of therapeutic resistance in brain cancer.
The lab uses a combination of stem and cancer cell biology, advanced molecular biology techniques (such as DNA chip technology, Next-Gen Sequencing, Chip-seq analysis, transgenic animal models and patient-derived orthotopic brain tumor animal models) and advanced in vivo imaging techniques to understand the molecular mechanism of therapeutic resistance and disease recurrence in brain tumors.

The main focus of this laboratory research is to:

1. Investigate the role of cellular and epigenetic plasticity in brain tumor recurrence
2. Advance the understanding of the Cancer Stem Cell Theory
3. Develop effective targeted therapy to prevent brain tumor recurrence

For more information please visit the Ahmed Laboratory webpage.

 Balyasnikova Laboratory

Advancing and developing translational, cell-based targeted therapy for the treatment of glioblastoma and other brain malignancies.

The Balyasnikova Lab is dedicated to the advancement and development of translational, cell-based targeted therapy for the treatment of glioblastoma and other brain malignancies. We also aim to develop imaging techniques for the tracking of stem cells in the central nervous system, improving our understanding of therapeutic mechanisms. Finally, as we look towards the future of brain cancer treatment, we are committed to the training of aspiring research professionals.

For more information, please visit the Balyasnikova Lab webpage.

 Peiwen Chen Laboratory
Studying tumor-immune symbiotic interactions and developing novel immunotherapies

My laboratory focuses on characterizing the molecular mechanisms that underlie heterotypic interactions across diverse cell types (e.g., cancer cell, immune cell and endothelial cell) in glioblastoma and brain metastatic tumors, and developing novel therapeutic strategies intercepting these co-dependencies. We take an integrated strategy combining gain- and loss-of-function approaches, in vitro and in vivo systems, as well as proteomic and transcriptomic analyses to:

(1) study how genetic and epigenetic regulation of cancer cells and/or cancer stem cells can shape an immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment;

(2) elucidate the mechanisms for how these infiltrating immune cells affect tumor growth and brain metastasis;

(3) understand how this tumor-immunity symbiosis affects the effectiveness of cancer therapies, including immunotherapy, anti-angiogenic therapy and conventional therapies, thus developing novel and effective combination therapies.

For more information, please visit the Chen Lab webpage.

 The Milo Laboratory

Driven by the desire to study the importance of the brain microenvironment

Research Description

Visit The Milo Laboratory website.


View publications.


 Amy Heimberger Laboratory

Improving the lives of patients with central nervous system (CNS) cancers through the development of new immunotherapies informed by understanding the underlying unique immunobiology of the CNS. 

Research Description

Our laboratory studies the unique immunobiology of CNS tumors that informs our development of immuno-oncology therapeutics. The laboratory has been intricately involved in a wide variety of bench-to-bedside immune therapeutics, including those that developed in the laboratory and arising from our own patents. We work collaboratively with industry on their pipeline agents to clarify indications and companion biomarkers. The laboratory carries unique expertise in the investigational new drug process and window-of-opportunity clinical trials. The laboratory conducts extensive immune profiling of patient tumors including ex vivo functional assays. Our studies are directed to how various cells interact within the tumor microenvironment and the functional implications using multiplex imaging, methylation profiling, single cell sequencing and transcriptomic analysis. Areas in which we have contributed to science include the following:

EGFRvIII peptide vaccines Our laboratory co-developed with Duke University from bench-to-bedside a peptide (PEP-3-KLH/CDX-110) vaccine strategy that targets the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFRvIII), that demonstrated induction of anti-tumor immune responses.

 STAT3 mediated immune suppression and therapeutic targeting We clarified that the signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 STAT3 pathway is a key molecular hub of gliomagenesis and tumor-mediated immune suppression and conducted the preclinical development of a novel small molecule inhibitor of STAT3, WP1066, for which I hold the IND. STAT3 has been considered an “un-druggable” target and this is a first-in-man agent with specificity to STAT3. This drug has been licensed to Moleculin and is now in clinical trials.

Glioblastoma mediated mechanisms of immune suppression We have demonstrated that glioblastoma subverts the immune system to become tumor protective, especially by 1) driving tumor-associated microglia/macrophages to assist in potentiating gliomagenesis; 2) by recruitment of Tregs; 3) and by the intrinsic properties of cancer stem cells which are immunosuppressive on both adaptive and innate immunity. This investigative direction has provided potential therapeutic targets/strategies and biomarker elucidation.

miRNA and nanoparticle therapeutics The laboratory has elucidated the role of epigenetic microRNA regulation on tumor-mediated immune suppression, with an emphasis on potential translational therapeutic approaches.  One of these strategies, miR-124 delivered with lipid nanoparticles to the immune compartment entered clinical trials in spontaneously arising gliomas in canines. 

Immune checkpoint therapeutics and response biomarkers Given the recent FDA approvals of immune checkpoint inhibitors for malignancies, there is great enthusiasm for their use in glioblastoma. Recent work in our lab has been focused on clarification of potential response biomarkers and identification of GBM patient subsets that may benefit.


View recent publications.


For contact information, please visit the Amy Heimberger Lab page

 Craig Horbinski Laboratory

Studying the effects of altered glioma metabolism in the microenvironment.

My translational work focuses on the effects of altered glioma metabolism in the microenvironment. Mutations in isocitrate dehydrogenase 1 or 2 (mutant IDH1/2) are present in a large proportion of gliomas, and are known to alter tumor metabolism and DNA methylation. Additionally, I serve as the Director of the Nervous System Tumor Bank (NSTB) for the Malnati Brain Tumor Institute of the Lurie Cancer Center. The NSTB provides all Lurie Cancer Center researchers with patient-derived biospecimens and neuropathological support.

For more information, please visit the Horbinski Laboratory website.

 Lee-Chang Laboratory
Leveraging the immune system to treat CNS cancer.

For more information, please visit the Lee-Chang Lab webpage.

 Lesniak Laboratory

Developing biological therapies for primary and metastatic brain cancer.

My laboratory focuses on the the development of biological therapies for primary and metastatic brain cancer. We focus on immunotherapy, stem cell biology, gene therapy, and nanotechnology applications to brain tumors. Our goal is to uncover pathways which can be targeted with selected agents and my laboratory closely works with the NIH and the FDA to develop novel therapies for patients with brain cancer.

For more information, please visit

 Miska Laboratory
The Miska laboratory focuses on how metabolism shapes immune responses against brain tumors, and how we can alter these responses to prevent tumor growth and enhance the lives of those affected.

For more information, please visit the Miska Lab webpage.

 The Skull Base Lab

Residents, fellows, and practicing surgeons work with highly trained faculty using state-of-the-art technologies and hands-on dissection emphasizing a comprehensive and translational approach using real surgical techniques that better equip trainees with the skills they need in the operating room.

 Adam Sonabend Laboratory

Studying precision medicine and its application for brain tumors.

My research focuses on precision medicine and its application for brain tumors. I am focused on the use of molecular analysis to personalize treatments for patients with malignant brain tumors and the delivery of these treatments directly into the brain to improve their efficacy while avoiding unnecessary side effects.

Learn more about our publications and research at the Adam Sonabend Lab website.

 Zhang Laboratory
Advancing brain tumor therapy with innovation in nanotechnology, immunology & bioinformatics.

For more information, please visit the Zhang Lab webpage.

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