Q&A with a PhD student

Q&A with a PhD student

28 January 2015

Under the leadership of world-leading melanoma pathologist Prof Richard Scolyer and medical oncologist A/Prof Georgina Long, third year PhD student, Hojabr Kakavand, is at the forefront of melanoma research. 

By using samples from MIA’s BioSpecimen Bank, Hojabr’s work is trying to understand how melanoma hides from the immune system’s surveillance that would normally seek and destroy cancerous cells. This research will have significant implications for the use of combinations of targeted therapies and immune therapies in treating metastatic melanoma patients where previously there was little hope of survival.

Hojabr has just published his research and we’re chatting to him today to find out more:  

  1. Why is this publication noteworthy?

My research has been published in a prestigious journal called Clinical Cancer Research (which ranks it 13th of 202 Oncology journals and has an impact factor of 8.2). It is a big achievement to have a first-author publication of this magnitude during a PhD, so I’m really pleased.

2.   Can you summarize this research?

After many years of no viable options for patients with metastatic melanoma, the past 5 years have yielded multiple options that fall in the scope of either targeted therapy (kill melanoma cells due to unique mutations present only in these cells, eg. BRAF inhibitors) or immunotherapy (increase the body’s own ability to recognise and kill the melanoma cells, eg. anti-PD-1 therapies). The research in this study looked at the potential for synergy between targeted therapy and immunotherapy.

By assessing the immune profile in biopsies of patients who have been treated with targeted therapy, we can get an idea if the patient could potentially benefit from immunotherapy and the best timing and sequence for treatment.

3.   How could this research make a difference to melanoma patients and where to from here?

Hopefully this research will pave the way to conduct clinical trials looking at the combination of targeted therapy and immunotherapy and therefore increase the rates of response in patients. Ultimately it’s about saving lives.

4.    Why are you passionate about research?

The very cliché answer here is that I'm passionate about helping people. But I also feel that the research we are conducting at Melanoma Institute Australia is at the intersection between laboratory research and clinical implementation, and it’s very exciting to be a part of that.

6.    What is it like being a PhD student?

It is definitely one of the hardest challenges I have ever undertaken, even though I am surrounded by incredibly intelligent researchers, scientists and clinicians who inspire me on a daily basis. It is also filled with many tedious tasks such as drinking coffee!

7.   Tell us a little about yourself.

I'm just an average guy. I have a black belt in Taekwondo and have represented Australia on a few occasions in international competition. I speak multiple languages and my favourite city is Paris, France.