UCLA researchers receive early career researcher awards from the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy

Recognized for pioneering cancer research, awardees receive funding and access to technology and become part of world-leading immunotherapy expert network
Photos of Katie Campbell and Gabriel Abril Rodriguez
Gabriel Abril Rodriguez, PhD (left) and Katie Campbell, PhD (right)

UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers Katie Campbell, PhD, and Gabriel Abril Rodriguez, PhD, have been named early career researcher awardees by the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy (PICI). Awardees pursue bold research through support from PICI’s world-class network of immunotherapy experts and research institutions, including UCLA, as well as access to leading-edge technology, informatics and clinical data.

Campbell, a postdoctoral fellow, was named a Parker Bridge Fellow by PICI, in partnership with the V Foundation. Bridge Fellows are senior postdoctoral investigators working to answer the most critical questions in cancer immunotherapy as they transition into faculty positions from mentorship with PICI Network leaders.

Campbell studies cancer genomics and immunotherapies in melanoma in the laboratory of physician-scientist Antoni Ribas, MD, PhD, a professor of medicine, surgery and molecular and medical pharmacology and director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy Center at UCLA. She is working to better understand the factors that determine which patients’ tumors will respond to immunotherapy and which won’t.

“We study (tumor) samples using genomics technologies, similar to what 23andMe does,” Campbell said. “But instead of talking about the history of the person or their lineage, we talk about the history of the tumor. We are examining what that information may mean to properly treat the patient and utilizing high-dimensional technologies to improve therapeutic opportunities for these patients.”

Abril Rodriguez was named PICI’s inaugural Representation In SciencE (RISE) Scholar.  A dedicated award for a graduate or rising postdoctoral student who is Black, Indigenous or a Person of Color (BIPOC), the RISE scholarship goes to a person with an outstanding scientific background at a PICI Network research institution.

Abril Rodriguez is developing new tools to study T-cell biology with the goal of developing novel T-cell therapies for solid tumors in the laboratory of Cristina Puig-Saus, PhD.

“The scholarship is a validation of my project idea, which is a very high-risk, high-impact project,” he said. “As part of the PICI Network, I will interact and share my ideas with some of the brightest minds in the field, and learning from them will help me push this project forward.”

Campbell and Abril Rodriguez are two of nine early career researchers honored by PICI this year. Since 2016, 37 early career investigators have been recognized, receiving access to more than $19 million in total funding.

“Like those who have come before them, the 2020 awardees are among the best and brightest minds anywhere,” said John Connolly, PhD, PICI’s chief scientific officer. “We are proud to support these researchers, who are dedicated to innovating our approach to cancer to improve patient outcomes.”

Read the full release from the Parker Institute here.

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