Robert Wechsler-Reya, PhD, Aims to Expand the Cancer Center's Translational Brain Cancer Research

January 9, 2023

Robert Wechsler-Reya, PhD, appointed scientific director of Brain Tumor Research at the HICCC and member of the Tumor Biology and Microenvironment Program

Robert Wechsler-Reya, PhD, a leading translational scientist focused on pediatric brain cancer, has joined the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC) and the Division of Neuro-Oncology as scientific director of Brain Tumor Research. Dr. Wechsler-Reya, who joined in the fall of 2022, is also professor of neurological sciences in the Department of Neurology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Prior to Columbia, Dr. Wechsler-Reya was a professor and director of the Tumor Initiation and Maintenance Program at Sanford-Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute. He was also, simultaneously, adjunct professor of pediatrics at UC San Diego.

The Wechsler-Reya lab focuses on medulloblastoma, the most common malignant brain tumor in children, using models to understand the disease and to develop novel approaches to therapy. Much of his lab is devoted to bringing their discoveries in pediatric brain cancer through to clinical trials.

As scientific director of Brain Tumor Research, Dr. Wechsler-Reya will focus on expanding opportunities for investigators at Columbia specializing in adult and pediatric brain cancer, to connect their findings and discoveries from the lab to the clinic. In addition, he hopes to broaden collaborative efforts with physicians and scientists across New York City medical centers.

“New York as a landscape is just phenomenal in terms of the amount of high quality research-- basic and translational research--that's going on here, and to have the opportunity to interact with those people is amazing,” says Dr. Wechsler-Reya. “I’d like to generate more collaborative grants, to move things from the lab to the clinic, and back again to the lab actually; to really take advantage of the information that we can get from patients, and have that inform the research we do.”

A big draw to Columbia for Dr. Wechsler-Reya is the innovative work happening at the HICCC in novel techniques that enable drug delivery across the blood-brain barrier. A natural protective layer in our brain, the blood-brain barrier prevents many types of chemotherapy from reaching the brain, making it challenging to effectively deliver therapies to brain tumors.

“Strategies for delivering drugs across the blood-brain barrier are critical for moving forward the drugs that we can identify as targets in these patients,” says Dr. Wechsler-Reya, who aims to partner with Columbia faculty who are already leading promising new approaches for overcoming the blood-brain barrier, including focused ultrasound and convection-enhanced delivery, and to pilot these novel techniques for medulloblastoma.