UCLA physician-scientist awarded collaborative grant to study use of genomics in treatment-resistant cancers

Doctor examines a patient for potential melanoma

UCLA researcher Dr. Siwen Hu-Lieskovan has been awarded the Phillip A. Sharp Innovation in Collaboration Award from Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) to fund her work using genomics to better understand how melanoma and other cancers can become resistant to immunotherapy.

The Philip A. Sharp Award program rewards distinctive collaborations that propose to accelerate current research and development models, bringing therapeutic benefit to cancer patients. A collaboration consists of a team of two researchers from different institutions who have not previously worked together. Each team is awarded a grant of $250,000 over two years to support research projects stemming from previous advances in cancer research from the SU2C community.

As one of four teams awarded by SU2C this year, Hu-Lieskovan will collaborate with Dr. René Bernards, a professor of cancer genetics and genomics with The Netherlands Cancer Institute. The scientists will co-lead the research project entitled, “Interrogation of Resistance Mechanisms to Checkpoint Inhibitors Using Functional Genomics.”

“This proposal brings together complementary expertise in development of immunotherapy and analysis of resistance,” said Dr. Hu-Lieskovan, an assistant professor medicine, hematology and oncology at the David Geffen School of Medicine.

The collaborative efforts of Hu-Lieskovan and Bernards seek to identify genes that help cancers become resistant to immunotherapy, with the goal to facilitate the development of new and more effective combination therapies that can overcome this resistance. Hu-Lieskovan has used a variety of genetic approaches to collect and study tumor and blood samples from patients who have received anti-PD1 immunotherapies. Bernards has developed an animal model and high-throughput CRISPR-based system that can interrogate the importance of individual genes in mediating anti-tumor immune response.

Hu-Lieskovan’s current research focuses on investigating how melanoma, lung and other types of cancer can evade the immune system. She is also investigating genetically modified cellular immunotherapy for long-term control of metastatic melanoma and the use of nanoparticle-based delivery systems in the treatment of the disease. Hu-Lieskovan currently leads immunotherapy clinical trials at UCLA and SWOG, and has co-authored several translational studies evaluating cancer resistance to anti-PD1 therapies.

Hu-Lieskovan is a member of the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center member and the SU2C-Cancer Research Institute Cancer Immunology Dream Team. She completed her residency training in Internal Medicine from the University of Southern California in 2011, and a Hematology/Oncology fellowship from UCLA in 2014. Hu-Lieskovan is also the recent recipient of the institutional UCLA CTSI KL2 Award.