In our latest research feature, we spoke with Niroshana Anandasabapathy of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who is the recipient of an MRA Young Investigator Award. Funded in collaboration with Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dr. Anandasabapathy’s research is titled “Expanding immune-surveillance and immunotherapy of melanoma.” Here she explains more about her research.
I have always been really interested in why the immune system fails to detect cancer, and I completed my PhD in cancer biology while an MD-PhD student. I am a dermatologist, so melanoma is a critical concern, and as one of our more immunogenic cancers, melanoma is a fascinating and challenging area to work in.
Explain your research and how it can make a difference to melanoma patients.
Our research is geared at developing new drugs for melanoma immunotherapy. To do this, we study how the immune system responds to cancer and how we can improve that response in new ways.
What is one thing about your research that surprised you when you first started?
I am still amazed by how effective immunotherapy is. Although conceptually we thought it would work, seeing it in place is so gratifying. In my own work I am actually amazed by how little we understand about how protective vaccines work (for example, the vaccine to smallpox). A better knowledge of known vaccines could help develop therapies to improve immunity to cancer.
How has MRA funding helped your work?
We made some very intriguing findings for how the immune system maintains tolerance to itself in the skin. We feel it is likely skin cancer in general, and melanoma in particular, that can hijack these mechanisms, and this opportunity allows us to test whether that is true. With these data in hand we can develop new drugs to combat melanoma that block these pathways.
Have there been any recent advances in your research that are particularly encouraging?
We identified a particular target for drug development I believe is extremely promising. Because a drug to this target would work very differently from current immunotherapy, it could be combined with current therapies to improve responses in the 60-70% of patients for whom current immunotherapy does not work.
What do you do when you’re not seeing patients or conducting research?
I love to cook, paint, play the piano and am often with my family. We love being outside (with sun protection on of course) and traveling when possible. But I admit I also love work. I wake up every day excited by these questions and grateful to be trying to make a difference.
Learn more about Dr. Anandasabapathy’s work and our other funded Young Investigators.