Meet the Team - Hansol

Meet the Team - Hansol

Hansol Lee is a current PhD Student at MIA, but he originally began a one-year Master’s degree in June of 2016.

“I was looking for a Masters’ project on the University of Sydney website and I wanted to get involved in research focusing on patient therapy. I either wanted to go into infectious diseases or cancer – both looking at some sort of drug treatment.”

He stumbled across MIA Co-Medical Directors Professor Richard Scolyer and Professor Georgina Long’s research portfolio on The University of Sydney website and loved what they were doing.

“They seemed so passionate about their job and it was incredible to see how their work ultimately helps people. The project that they were offering was exactly what I was looking for.”

Hansol is interested in looking at the immune system in response and resistance to immunotherapy.

“I originally only planned to do a Master of Philosophy and finish in one year, but I loved the opportunities that this research group gave me especially in terms of attending international conferences and publishing papers. I know that if I had chosen to work in another research group, I would not have gotten the same opportunities as I’ve had now.”

Hansol converted his Master's into a PhD in October 2016.

With the guidance of his supervisors – Professor Richard Scolyer, Professor Georgina Long and Dr James Wilmott – Hansol is focusing on the innate immune system, or the part of the immune system that reacts immediately and non-specifically to foreign threats, and how this plays a role in response and resistance to immunotherapy in melanoma patients.

Hansol noticed that the data in melanoma research tends to focus on the adaptive immune system, or the immune mechanisms that develop specific responses to specific diseases. He realised that this important work could be bolstered by looking at how the innate immune system helps the adaptive immune system to fight melanoma.

“I find it interesting that the eradication of cancer involves such an intricate interplay between so many cells. Since there isn’t much research on this particular topic, I wanted to explore this and get data into the scientific field.”

He is currently looking at how a certain type of immune cell in the innate immune system influences the way certain cells in the adaptive immune system respond to immunotherapy in melanoma patients.

Hansol presented some of his research at the Society for Melanoma Research Congress in Manchester last year. He found that patients who responded to anti-PD-1 immunotherapy had higher populations of an adaptive immune cell, NK cells, within their tumour, which further increased early during treatment. In responding patients, he found that these cells were much closer to the melanoma cells than in non-responding patients.

He also showed that using anti-PD-1 immunotherapy increased the function of the NK cells, resulting in them destroying more melanoma cells. This greater understanding of the link between NK immune cells and immunotherapy response will assist researchers in further modifying treatments to provide better outcomes for patients, and the same results were published in the journal OncoImmunology, with Hansol as first author.

This year, he attended the European Society for Medical Oncology Congress in Barcelona, where he presented a poster. He discussed how macrophages, a type of innate immune cell, are involved in combination immunotherapy treatment in melanoma patients.

He found that patients who responded to treatment had more macrophages within their tumour before they began treatment, and a higher amount of a particular subset of macrophages is associated with a significantly better overall response and progression-free survival rate.

He is hoping to finish his PhD by March next year.

“It will be a lot of hard work to get there but I think I will be able to make it, especially with the support of everyone in our research group.”

Ultimately, Hansol wants to become a doctor.

“I have a few options that I am considering if I don’t start studying medicine as soon as my PhD is complete. One is working as a post-doctoral researcher somewhere abroad or even here at MIA.”

If not, Hansol might join the police force.

Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be a police officer. So, maybe I’ll join the police academy next year and work as a police officer!

Regardless of the route I take, my ultimate goal is medicine.