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Maria Tsoli: Beyond the Lab

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Senior Research Officer at Children's Cancer Institute, Sydney

The Cure Starts Now recently sat down and had a conversation with leading DIPG researcher, Dr. Maria Tsoli:

Why did you decide to focus your research on DIPG/DMG?
"My family has gone through the pain of losing people that were dearly loved from aggressive cancer. Like every other family in the world, we spent many hours researching for local and overseas clinical trials. The feeling of running out of time and the agony of not being able to offer something to help them live longer is something that I will never be able to forget. In 2011 I applied for a job position at the laboratory of A/Prof David Ziegler. When I started, I didn't know much about the biology of DIPG/DMG, but I knew that if I summarized it by keywords, it would be "deadly", “ rapid" "no-options". Being a young mother at that time, I knew that the pain of losing a child would be unbearable. Since then, I have devoted my time in the lab researching in DIPG/DMG in memory of the people I lost and in memory of all the kids that died."

What are some of the greatest advancements you have seen with DIPG/DMG research?
"I believe that everything that has been achieved for DIPG/DMG is significant from the PDX development to the genomic alterations to the drugs being tested (successful or not successful). Everything is a missing piece in this puzzle, and there are so many amazing studies that have been performed and published. Furthermore, the collaborative nature among the many DIPG/DMG research groups is something that I didn’t experience when I was working with adult cancers and something that I also consider as a fantastic achievement."

What have been the biggest hurdles for you with your research?
"Our laboratory focuses on finding therapeutic options that can be rapidly translated. We have tested many drugs that although they worked well in the plastic dish, they didn't offer any benefit in the preclinical models of DIPG/DMG due to minimal penetration through the blood-brain-barrier (BBB). I believe for any researcher working with aggressive brain tumours the BBB is a key challenge. However, I am blessed to be working with a team of enthusiastic young scientists that work very hard and are resilient to any outcome of their experiments. We know that if we fail with any treatment, we want this to happen in the lab and not in the clinic."

What have been your biggest accomplishments with your work?
"I am fortunate to be surrounded by a team of dedicated scientists that work very hard even under the current difficult conditions due to Covid19 pandemic. There isn't anything that has been accomplished that didn't require a team effort. We are grateful for the opportunity we were given to learn from other overseas DIPG/DMG labs and transfer the knowledge to Australia. Our team was the first to handle DIPG/DMG cells and develop PDX models in Australia. This has allowed us to test many drugs with some exhibiting promising outcomes. The most rewarding accomplishment is when our findings from preclinical testing are getting translated to the clinic as Phase I trials."

How has The Cure Starts Now and the Homerun Cure strategy helped you achieve larger cure objective?
"We are incredibly grateful for all the support we have received over time. This support has allowed us to investigate different therapeutic options that would have been otherwise unable to pursue. In some cases, these initial grants have allowed us to apply for bigger grants in Australia. We know that we will not be able to cure DIPG/DMG with a single agent or a single combination of drugs. Hence, the more options we develop preclinically then, the more we will have to offer to patients in the clinic."

Tell us something interesting about yourself that others might not know (ie. Do you play an instrument, have a hidden talent or just an interesting fact about you)
"My grandfather was an excellent artist. I have witnessed some of his paintings in old Greek movies. I started painting six months ago, and every Saturday afternoon I look forward to my 2 hours of peacefulness. I can’t say that I have his talent, but I hope I will achieve something beautiful one day."


Learn more about Dr. Tsoli's research funded by The Cure Starts Now: