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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.

 Chen Lab
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.

 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 Northwestern Brain Tumor Institute. The NSTB provides all NBTI researchers with patient-derived biospecimens and neuropathological support.

For more information, please visit the Horbinski Laboratory website.

 James Lab

Elucidating the molecular and biological consequences of specific gene alterations in CNS cancer.

The research activities of my laboratory are directed towards elucidating the molecular and biological consequences of specific gene alterations in CNS cancer, with particular emphasis on malignant glioma, the most common type of primary CNS tumor, and towards identifying actionable/druggable molecular characteristics of these tumors.

For more information about the James Lab, please visit the James Laboratory website.

 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

 Saratsis Pediatric Brain Tumor Laboratory

Studying the biology of pediatric brain tumors to identify and test novel molecular targets for more effective therapies.

Our overarching research goal is to identify biomarkers of disease and develop new therapeutic strategies to improve clinical outcomes for children with brain tumors.

Brain tumors are the most common solid cancer in children. Up to 12% of pediatric brain tumors are high-grade gliomas (HGGs). Typical management involves surgical removal, followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatment. However, despite ongoing research and a variety of treatment approaches, the five- year survival rate for children with high-grade glioma is only 20%, with the majority of children succumbing to their disease.

Approximately 15% of pediatric brain tumors arise in the brainstem, of which 80% are a subtype known as diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG). DIPG is an infiltrative, high-grade tumor, and has the highest mortality rate of all pediatric solid tumors. DIPG affects young children with onset between 6 and 9 years of age. Radiation therapy is the standard treatment, temporarily decreasing symptoms, yet DIPG continues to exhibit the highest mortality rate of all pediatric brain tumors with median survival less than 12 months and 5-year survival less than 5%. Despite almost 40 years of clinical trials exploring chemotherapeutic and radiation regimens, there has been little change in treatment paradigm or overall survival for children with DIPG.

Recent studies of pediatric high-grade and brainstem gliomas have provided new insight on the mechanisms of tumor formation and treatment resistance.  Analysis of rare tumor specimens have implicated pediatric glioma is a heterogeneous disease characterized by the presence of molecular subgroups.  Importantly, missense mutations Lys27Met (K27M) and Gly34Arg/Val (G34R/V) in genes encoding Histone H3.3 (H3F3A) and H3.1 (HIST3H1B) have recently been identified in pediatric gliomas, and the H3 K27M driver mutation is correlated with a clinically and biologically distinct subgroup of DIPG patients.

Given the rapid clinical progression of this disease and its poor response to treatment, improved understanding of tumor biology to facilitate development of more effective therapeutic approaches for high-grade pediatric glioma, particularly DIPG, is desperately needed. Our goal is to improve diagnosis and clinical outcomes of pediatric high-grade gliomas through increased understanding of the molecular characteristics of these tumors in order to develop rational, molecularly-informed, targeted therapies for rapid clinical translation.

 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 Lab

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.

 Derek Wainwright Lab

Studying malignant glioma, with a special emphasis on glioblastoma; pursuing incurable pediatric brain tumors and metastatic tumors that invade the brain/spinal cord.

Research Description

Our laboratory utilizes DNA sequencing, gene expression profiling, proteomic analyses, flow cytometric methodology and many other basic techniques to pursue goals that are ultimately translatable for improving health and overall survival in patients with brain cancer. Although our research is primarily focused on malignant glioma, with a special emphasis on glioblastoma, we are also interested in pursuing incurable pediatric brain tumors, as well as metastatic tumors that invade the brain/spinal cord. It is our sincere hope that the basic mechanistic investigations that we carry out will uncover important and meaningful discoveries that translate into highly effective immunotherapeutic modalities for the benefit of patients with incurable cancer in the brain. 

For more information, please see Derek Wainwright's, PhD, faculty profile or lab website.


Please see Dr. Wainwright's publications in PubMed.

Contact Wainwright Lab

Contact the Wainwright Lab at 312-503-3161 or visit us on campus in Tarry 2-703.

Advanced NeuroImaging and Surgical Epilepsy

Our lab is committed to advancing our understanding of epilepsy. We seek to do this by studying the disorder in a fundamentally new way, including the incorporation of machine learning techniques applied to neuroimaging data. We hope this work will lead to the development of novel, data-driven techniques for use in evaluating patients living with epilepsy and, one day, inform completely new treatment options for the disorder.

visit ANISE Lab

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