Marta Penas-Prado, M.D.

Marta Penas-Prado, M.D.
Associate Research Physician

Dr. Penas-Prado is a practicing neuro-oncologist focused on caring for patients with rare brain and spine tumors. Her research seeks to uncover the molecular underpinnings of rare CNS tumors and develop clinical trials to better understand their disease and come up with an effective treatment plan. Since rare tumors are frequently a clinical challenge due to nonspecific standard-of-care therapies, poorly defined treatment options for recurrence, and limited access to clinical trials, she is grateful to be part of a neuro-oncology team at NIH that encompasses a program to address these needs through NCI-CONNECT. Beyond our branch, Dr. Penas-Prado enjoys collaborating with neuropathologists, neuroradiologists, neurosurgeons, radiation oncologists and experts in the field to provide the best possible care for her patients.

Areas of Expertise

1) adult medulloblastoma, 2) ependymoma, 3) rare CNS tumors, 4) clinical trials

Contact Info

Marta Penas-Prado, M.D.
Center for Cancer Research
National Cancer Institute
Building 82, Room 213
Bethesda, MD 20814
Ph: 240-760-6030
Fax: 301-480-5124

Dr. Penas-Prado’s research interests are primarily focused on developing clinical trials for patients with rare CNS tumors, with a specific interest in adult medulloblastoma and ependymoma. Within this area, she is currently the principal investigator on a trial that evaluates the efficacy of nivolumab on rare central nervous system tumors. The trial is currently only open at the NIH but will soon be converted into a multi-center study through the Brain Tumor Trials Collaborative (BTTC) led by the Neuro-Oncology Branch at the NIH. The goal of this trial is to come closer to discovering the patient populations or tumor subtypes that are sensitive to nivolumab treatment, which specifically targets PD-1 to boost immune function. The trial will also involve collecting data for correlative studies to assess immune function from blood and tumor tissue, through which Dr. Penas-Prado hopes to determine why immunotherapy is unsuccessful in certain patients and how we can enhance response in those that respond well. 

The second facet of Dr. Penas-Prado’s research is a tumor tissue and clinical outcomes research project to retrospectively collect and analyze tumor tissue and clinical information from patients with rare CNS tumors who are already deceased. The goal of this work is to eventually correlate the molecular characteristics obtained by performing analysis on the tumor tissue with treatment and outcomes. She hopes that having a record of the tumor tissue along with clinical information from the patient’s in-person visits may result in a better understanding of the natural history as well as the molecular risk factors of the tumor. Dr. Penas-Prado is confident that this collaborative study will help better define the prognostic groups based on molecular and clinical data and improve standard of care for rare CNS tumor patients. In addition, Dr. Penas-Prado is collaborating with Dr. Shlomit Yust-Katz in Israel to collect and analyze tumor tissue and clinical data on women who were pregnant at the time of diagnosis with a primary brain tumor, or who became pregnant after being diagnosed or during treatment. The goal of this research is to collect data about the influence of pregnancy on prognosis of patients with primary brain tumors and analyze the possible mechanisms by which pregnancy alters tumor biology. 

NIH Scientific Focus Areas:
Cancer Biology, Clinical Research, Immunology, Neuroscience

Selected Key Publications

  1. Proceedings of the Comprehensive Oncology Network Evaluating Rare CNS Tumors (NCI-CONNECT) Oligodendroglioma Workshop.
    Penas-Prado, M., Wu, J., Cahill, D.P., Brat, D.J., Costello, J.F., Kluetz, P.G., Cairncross, J.G., van den Bent, M., Verhaak, R.G.W., Aboud, O., Burger, P., Chang, S.M., Cordova, C., Huang, R.Y., Rowe, L.S., Taphoorn, M.J.B., Gilbert, M.R., Armstrong, T.S.
    Neuro-Oncology Advances. Epub ahead of print, 2019. [ Journal Article ]
  2. Majd, N. and Penas-Prado, M.
    Current Treatment Options in Oncology. 20(8): 64, 2019. [ Journal Article ]
  3. Penas-Prado, M., Armstrong, T.S., Gilbert, M.R.,
    Current Opinions in Neurology. 32(6): 895-906, 2019. [ Journal Article ]
  4. Harrison RA, Kesler SR, Johnson JM, Penas-Prado M, Sullaway CM, Wefel JS.
    Psychooncology. Epub ahead of print, 2018. [ Journal Article ]
  5. Harrison RA, Anderson MD, Cachia D, Kamiya-Matsuoka C, Weathers SS, O'Brien BJ, Penas-Prado M, Yung WKA, Wu J, Yuan Y, de Groot JF.
    European Journal of Cancer. 112: 83-93, 2019. [ Journal Article ]

Dr. Penas-Prado received her Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) from Universidad de Santiago de Compostela in Spain and was committed to the field of neurology very early in her educational training. She began a neurology residency at Hospital Universitario Doce de Octubre, also in Spain, and had the opportunity to be a clinical observer at MD Anderson Cancer Center where she was introduced to the field of neuro-oncology. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Penas-Prado returned to Spain to practice as a neurologist at two different hospitals, namely Hospital Universitario Doce de Octubre and Hospital General La Mancha Centro. Realizing her true interests were to focus on neuro-oncology specifically, she returned to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center to complete a fellowship in the discipline, where she became involved in a large retrospective research project looking at adult medulloblastoma patients. Dr. Penas-Prado then returned to Spain to practice as a neuro-oncologist, and a few years later accepted a position at M.D. Anderson once more as Assistant Professor in the Department of Neuro-Oncology. She was later promoted to Associate Professor and served as Clinical Research Director of Neuro-Oncology before joining NIH’s Neuro-Oncology Branch in 2018.

In addition to her commitment to caring for brain tumor patients over a number of years, specifically those with rare disease, Dr. Penas-Prado has also participated in her investigational capacity as a principal investigator on numerous investigator-initiated, industry-sponsored and cooperative clinical trials. She has also served as an editor and reviewer for scientific journals such as Neuro-Oncology, Journal of Neuro-Oncology and Neuro-Oncology Practice, and as a scientific reviewer of abstracts submitted to neurology and neuro-oncology meetings. Dr. Penas-Prado has been a presenter for several educational lectures and scientific abstracts conducted at the NIH as well as national and international meetings and has mentored over 40 medical students, clinical residents and fellows in their neuro-oncology training. Finally, Dr. Penas-Prado recently led a workshop on Adult Medulloblastoma, a rare CNS tumor, to bring together advocates, clinicians and scientists and review gaps in knowledge and discuss specific goals to move the field forward.

Honors, Awards and Leadership

  • Lead Physician, NCI-CONNECT Clinic 
  • Workshop Chair, NCI-CONNECT Adult Medulloblastoma Workshop – November 2019
  • CCR Women’s Scientific Advisor (WSA) nomination, NCI, NIH – 2019 
  • Nominated for the Irwin H. Krakoff Award for Excellence in Clinical Research, Faculty Recognition and Awards Program, Division of Cancer Medicine, The UT MD Anderson Cancer Center – 2016
  • Nominated for the Melvin L. Samuels Award for Excellence in Patient Care, Faculty Recognition and Awards Program, Division of Cancer Medicine, The UT MD Anderson Cancer Center   – 2014, 2015, 2017
  • Travel Grant, 9th EANO Meeting – 2010 
  • Travel Grant, EORTC/EANO Conference – 2009 

Select Societies and Initiatives

  • Society for Neuro-Oncology (SNO) (2011-present)
  • Grupo Español de Neurooncologia (2010-present)
  • Sociedad Español de Neurologia (2009-present)
  • Grupo Español de Investigacion en Neurooncologia (2009-present)
  • European Association of Neuro-Oncology (EANO) (2008-present)
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) (2006-present)