DANVILLE - Geisinger Health System has been awarded a two-year grant for $110,249 from the state Department of Health's Commonwealth Universal Research Enhancement (PA-CURE) grant program for its work developing targeted treatment for patients with brain cancer.

Brain cancer is the second-leading cause of death in children and males ages 20 to 39. It is the fifth leading cause of death in females ages 20 to 39.

According to experts, a growing awareness that each brain tumor has its own characteristics is behind the promising developments. The research of Dr. Nikolaos Tapinos, director of neurological research at the Weis Center for Research, is decoding the factor that allows some tumors to survive and grow, which will help develop treatments to work against this factor.

"When brain cancer develops, it causes normal cells to deactivate a gene that should be active or - especially worrisome - activates others. Some genes get locked off or silenced when they shouldn't be," said Tapinos. "By better understanding this process, we can potentially unlock this cancer-fighting gene."

Some experts compare the human genome to a body's computer hardware. They describe signals between cells to be like the software that instructs the computer when, where and how to work. Unlike our DNA, which can't be changed, cell signals are malleable, giving scientists like Tapinos and his colleagues the chance to manipulate its response with drugs.

Over the next five years, Tapinos expects to see the discovery of more factors that impinge on the genome and the development of more targeted therapies in response.

Tapinos works with Dr. Atom Sarkar, neurosurgical oncologist, Geisinger Health System, who is committed to seeing that this innovative research reaches patients.

"This is an outstanding opportunity to move research on brain cancer from the laboratory into the clinic," said Carey. "While difficult, this type of translational research is needed to drive continuous improvement in individual health."

The PA-CURE grants are funded through a program based on a Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement with major tobacco manufacturers. This settlement agreement provides reimbursement to states for costs incurred as a result of tobacco use. Pennsylvania positioned itself as a national leader by limiting the use of the tobacco settlement funds to initiatives designed to improve the health status of its citizens. Pennsylvania's use of tobacco settlement funds to support broad-based health research in Pennsylvania helps direct research efforts to state-defined health research objectives that improve the health of all Pennsylvanians.

"The goal of the project is to use knowledge from basic research to provide more targeted treatment for patients with brain cancer," said , was quoted in a press release from Geisinger.

"We're embarking on some exciting new territory in the treatment of brain cancer," said Dr. David Carey, director of the Weis Center for Research.