Mariano S. Viapiano, PhD

Associate Professor
SUNY Upstate Medical University
Syracuse, New York

Abstract 3167. The scaffolding protein DLG5 is necessary to maintain Sonic Hedgehog signaling in glioblastoma stem cells and promote tumor growth. 

What are your long-term career objectives? 

Being an established investigator who has done neuro-oncology research for almost 20 years, I am very fortunate to look back on my career and realize that I have achieved many of the objectives that I defined when I set out in my scientific endeavor: gaining expertise in my field of work, educating students and training researchers, becoming recognized by my peers, and, of course, advancing scientific knowledge towards better cancer therapies. Over time, my career has reached milestones, matured, and developed in unexpected ways. This experience has helped me delineate my current objectives, which I would like to call permanent rather than long-term, be it in science, education, or service. My major scientific objective is to continue driving fundamental discoveries in oncology and neuroscience, in order to understand how cancers benefit from their microenvironment and therefore improve our therapeutic options for patients with brain cancers. My major educational objective is to successfully communicate my curiosity, interest, passion, and commitment to research so that a new generation of scientists can be inspired to trace their own paths of discovery. Finally, being from an underrepresented group in science – as a minority and first-generation college student – my overarching social goal is to advance knowledge that will reduce health disparities and will give purpose to my work. 

Please share information about how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted your research over the last two years. 

The COVID-19 pandemic had a sudden, dramatic impact on our research, with consequences that still affect our laboratory to this day and will likely continue to have long-term effects. As many other investigators, we were dismayed when our university forced a campus-wide lockdown in early 2020 and requested that investigators stopped all but the most critical of activities. Because our laboratory is at the same time as the university’s brain tumor tissue bank, we were immediately deemed an essential team to continue the collection of specimens from critical surgeries, but almost all other activities had to be frozen at that time. Orders had to be canceled, animal colonies were put “on hold,” and research trickled to a bare minimum, causing extended delays to obtain results in our projects. The first half of 2020 was the hardest for my lab members, resulting in frustrated rotation students, visiting scholars that could not travel to the US – and lost their scholarships – and even postdoctoral trainees that left the lab to return to their home countries. In 2021, our lab was able to normalize activities and regain momentum but had to face the next challenge: the “great resignation” of laboratory and administrative staff (and faculty!), who decided to leave the university, and relocate to other states, or retire early. At the same time, another effect of the pandemic started becoming more noticeable in mid-2021 and has become the latest obstacle for research in 2022: the extensive disruption of supply chains, which has resulted in delayed orders, lack of critical laboratory materials, and discouraging price increases that cannot be matched by our limited academic budget. At the moment of this writing, our laboratory has gone through a major reorganization (after losing three members that left the lab for health and family reasons) and is actively recruiting new trainees to expand our research. We are still experiencing disruptions and delays but have learned from this experience and are hopeful that we will recover completely. One of the activities that we have missed most dearly was our in-person participation in scientific meetings during the past two years. That is why attending the 2022 AACR meeting has particular significance on our road to recovery.