Portrait of Nikos Tapinos, MD, PhD, in a lab environment
Nikos Tapinos, MD, PhD

Nikos Tapinos, MD, PhD, is the recipient of the 2020 Bruce M. Selya Award for Excellence in Research, which recognizes outstanding biomedical research at Lifespan hospitals. Dr. Tapinos is director of Molecular Neuro-Oncology Research at Rhode Island Hospital and an associate professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

Tapinos was nominated by Ziya L. Gokaslan, MD, Lifespan neurosurgeon-in-chief, clinical director of the Norman Prince Neurosciences Institute, and professor and chair of neurosurgery at Brown. In his nomination letter, Dr. Gokaslan noted that, Nikos is one of the most outstanding young researchers in the field of glial cell biology, focusing on mechanisms of epigenetic regulation of sternness and differentiation in peripheral glia (Schwann cells) and human glial cancer (glioblastoma).”

The nomination describes in detail how innovative work in Dr. Tapinos's laboratory has led to a broad array of advancements in the highly complex science of treating certain tumors. Intellectual property developed from his work includes drug delivery methods, techniques to lure migrating tumor cells towards targeted regions in the brain, development of novel antibodies for cancer therapy, development of RNA therapeutics against eRNA targets in glioblastoma and the identification of drugs now in preparation for human clinical trials.

Dr. Tapinos is published widely in his field, including seminal papers in such noted journals as Science, Nature Medicine and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) describing a non-immune mediated demyelination pathway in the Peripheral Nervous System and characterizing how Leprosy bacteria bind, invade and highjack the signaling network of human Schwann cells.

Dr. Tapinos’s notable research grant awards include a current $4 million, four-year grant from the Alpert Foundation for which he is co-Primary Investigator, supporting, “Investigation of the role of epigenetics in adult and pediatric malignant glioma.”

He has been an invited presenter nationally and internationally, and maintains memberships in prominent professional associations, including the Society for Neuroscience, the American Society for Neurochemistry, the Society of Neuro-Oncology and Sigma Xi Scientific Research Honor Society.

Dr. Gokaslan also makes note of Dr. Tapinos’s role in fostering the careers of promising young scholars, serving as a mentor to dozens of undergraduates, postdoctoral fellows and medical students; and as thesis advisor to numerous Ph.D., master’s and undergraduate honors students.

After completing his M.D. and Ph.D. in molecular biology at the University of Athens, Greece, Dr. Tapinos completed his postdoctoral fellowship at the Laboratory of Bacterial Pathogenesis and Immunology at The Rockefeller University, New York, N.Y., which is where, he says on his website, he was introduced to the field of molecular neuroscience.

Dr. Gokaslan concludes in his letter, “I find Dr. Tapinos to be one of the most creative, innovative young researchers in the United States and we are fortunate to have recruited him to Lifespan and Brown… He is one of my finest colleagues - an outstanding researcher and a terrific mentor. I expect that soon he will cement his world-wide reputation as a creative leader in the fields of glial cell biology and neuro-oncology.”

The Lifespan Board of Directors instituted the Excellence in Research award in 1999 to honor Judge Bruce M. Selya, chairman of the Lifespan Board from the creation of Lifespan in 1994 until 1999. Lifespan recognizes Judge Selya’s “steadfast commitment to academic medicine and his keen insight concerning the importance of academic programs to quality health care at Lifespan.” The award is intended to recognize a rising star in research, an independent investigator who has demonstrated excellence through a record of high-quality peer-reviewed publication and ability to attract research funding.