UCLA researcher recognized for extensive melanoma research

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Dr. Rajan Kulkarni, UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center member and Clinical Instructor in the Division of Dermatology has been selected to receive a Young Investigator Award to support his leading-edge melanoma research for the next three years.

The grant was given to Kulkarni by the Melanoma Research Alliance. Kulkarni was among 42 scientists from 25 prestigious academic institutions in four countries, who are focused on accelerating research into novel prevention and treatment strategies for melanoma patients and those at risk. The high honor is bestowed upon academic leaders with novel ideas, thereby recruiting and supporting the next generation of melanoma researchers.

Kulkarni’s groundbreaking research analyzed melanoma tumor variability and how to help predict response to newer therapies. In advanced melanoma, small quantities of cells break off from the tumor and travel through the blood. These cells, called circulating tumor cells (CTCs), are thought to contribute to progression and may be the source of cells that cause spread (metastasis) of the cancer.

Kulkarni has helped to develop a new technology for isolating melanoma CTCs from blood, called Vortex Chip. These CTCs hold promise for exploring variability in melanoma because it is much easier to study cancer by collecting blood samples than to perform invasive biopsies every few weeks.
Kulkarni’s hope is that these studies will help improve how patients may respond to treatment (such as PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors) and to better understand how resistance might occur, such that future treatments can be most appropriately directed.

“The generous support of the Melanoma Research Alliance will enable us to undertake these critical studies to help better characterize circulating tumor cells in melanoma, particularly to understand how differences in the tumor occur and how we may best direct treatments in the future,” said Kulkarni.