Mind meets heart in hunt for better treatments

Developing new treatments for brain cancer is more than a professional path, it’s a personal mission

Story by Kelly Collins | Photo by Jeyhoun Allebaugh | Published September 10, 2022

For Andrew Satterlee, PhD, developing personalized treatments for brain cancer is more than a professional path, it’s a personal mission. Andrew grew up in a suburb of Kansas City and went to nearby Kansas State University as a chemical engineering major. In 2007, his sophomore year of college, he developed headaches and nausea, symptoms that don’t traditionally cause alarm. Vertigo, vomiting and fainting came next.

After visiting multiple doctors, Andrew discovered he had a germ cell tumor in his brain, something more commonly seen in pediatric cancer or testicular cancer. He underwent four rounds of chemotherapy and 30 rounds of radiation therapy while remaining a full-time college sophomore, simply taking a lighter load to accommodate treatment. For one of his research projects at school, he explored the best way to treat germ-cell cancer in the brain.

“The first cancer research I ever did was trying to find a cure for my own brain cancer.”

Andrew underwent surgery to remove the golfball-sized tumor

Andrew’s condition was incredibly rare, and there was little research on how to treat it. His family began reaching out to experts in the field for advice on the best treatment. Andrew reflected, “My family and I began to realize how little consensus there was on the best treatment for my tumor type. It was up to my family—to me—to decide whether we should include a much harsher chemotherapeutic in my treatment regimen and go lighter on the radiation. This decision shouldn’t have been up to me, and it shouldn’t be up to people with fewer resources or with fathers who can’t become de facto scientists and investigators like mine.”

Andrew is driven to find a better way to choose treatments for patients. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship in the lab of Shawn Hingtgen, PhD, he joined the Eshelman Institute for Innovation to continue his work in brain cancer research. A grant from the Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure Innovation Fund supported the creation of Andrew’s role as a unique opportunity to bridge the worlds of academia and biotech and advance the research, development, and translation of the brain slice technology for two applications: drug screening and precision medicine. Andrew and his team are collaborating with academic scientists, industry partners, and clinicians to develop a new platform to test different drugs against a patient’s own tumor.

“To give patients the best chance, we need to identify effective therapies and match patients with the treatments that will work best against their specific tumor,” said Andrew. “I’m excited to help develop a tool to do just that.”