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Stephen Frederico received an American Brain Tumor Association fellowship to study pediatric brain cancer

Frederico in a blue blazer

Stephen Frederico wanted to be a professional baseball player. But after losing a close friend to a brain tumor, his passion began to shift from the major leagues to neuro-oncology. Later, during his first year at the College of Charleston, Frederico remembered a business card he'd tucked away in his wallet from an interview he had with a neurological surgeon years before. Frederico called the surgeon, who invited him to watch a brain surgery.  

“That was my ‘eureka’ moment,” says Frederico. “I realized in that operating room that neurological surgery is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

Now a second-year medical student at Pitt, Frederico studies novel therapies to treat two of the deadliest pediatric brain tumors, which both have poor survival rates and limited treatment options.

In support of his research, he was recently awarded a $3,000 Jack & Fay Netchin Medical Student Summer Fellowship from the American Brain Tumor Association. This highly competitive fellowship is intended to motivate talented medical students to pursue careers in neuro-oncology research by supporting a three-month summer research experience.

His project, “Developing an Adoptive Cell Transfer Immunotherapy for Pediatric Brain Tumors,” aims to modify a patient’s own T cells by adding a receptor to them that recognizes cancer cells, enabling these immune cells to kill the tumor while sparing healthy brain tissue.

“Many individuals who have received this fellowship have gone on to accomplish incredible feats, so it’s a real honor to receive this award,” says Frederico. “It’s also a testament to the amazing team that I have in the laboratory who worked together on this idea.”

Frederico is advised by Gary Kohanbash, assistant professor of neurological surgery and immunology in the School of Medicine and director of the Pediatric Neurosurgery ImmunoOncology Laboratory at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. He is also mentored by Ian Pollack, distinguished professor of neurological surgery in the School of Medicine, chief of pediatric neurosurgery at UPMC Children’s and co-director of the Neurosurgical Oncology Program at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.

Frederico intends to use this novel approach to combat adult brain tumors as well. He was recently named a Hillman Medical Student Fellow for Innovative Cancer Research by UPMC Hillman Cancer Center and was awarded $5,000 in research funding to target this approach to glioblastoma, one of the deadliest brain tumors that occurs in the adult population.

Frederico still plays baseball for fun and gets out to the batting cages whenever he can, but his sights are now firmly set on a career as a neurosurgeon-scientist.

“Pitt is one of the best places to study neurological surgery and neuro-oncology and has one of the strongest neurological surgery departments in the country,” he says. “It feels like a dream come true to be here.”


— Asher Jones