Starzl Scholar Award

The Starzl Scholar Award provides fellowship salary support as part of our Pre-K program. This award reflects the Dean’s Office's commitment to advancing diversity in biomedical science among our physician-scientist trainees. We hope that through this program, our physician-scientist trainees will be able to advance their research to be competitive for a K award.

Our Current Recipient

Timothy Luigino Sita, MD, PhD

Dr. SitaTimothy Luigino Sita, MD, PhD, is a fifth-year chief resident in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine. Sita's career goal is to run a basic science laboratory focused on understanding the biology of brain tumors while treating patients as a clinical radiation oncologist. This dream is inspired by his grandfather and fueled by the many patients whom he has had the pleasure of meeting.

Sita's research focuses on understanding how brain tumors hijack normal brain’s activity to drive their own tumor growth. Recent discoveries have shown that brain tumors deeply integrate with normal neurons. These tumors form electrical network connections with neurons that allow them to both provoke and exploit excitatory messages, promoting tumor dissemination throughout the brain.

How to stop this integration between brain tumors and neurons is what Sita hopes to study in his lab. One promising idea is the repurposing of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), the therapeutic induction of seizure, as a mechanism to disable tumor-neuron connections. ECT has been used by psychiatrists for nearly a century as one of the most rapid and efficacious treatments for severe psychiatric disorders. Sita's preliminary data demonstrate that applying ECT to mice with brain tumors disassembles the cellular machinery required for brain tumors to form their pathologic network with neurons, slowing tumor growth and prolonging mice survival. Further, therapeutic compounds normally unable to cross the blood-brain barrier can enter patients’ brains after ECT treatment, enabling critical access for brain tumor therapeutics.

With the support of the Starzl Academy, Sita is excited to keep exploring the use of ECT in brain tumor research and searching for new breakthroughs for brain tumor patients.