The UCLA Ali Jassim Family Cancer Research Program


 The key aims of the Jassim Family Research Program are:

  • Solving the mystery of how cancer begins in some cells, but not others, and progresses through the body
  • Developing personalized strategies for prevention, treatment and survivorship based on individual cancer risk
  • Understanding specific cancer types at unprecedented levels to improve the way they are diagnosed and treated
  • Harnessing the body’s own immune system to treat and control the disease

Specifically this year, the Program will be supporting the work of two JCCC researchers:

Dr. Rajan Kulkarni

Dr. Rajan Kulkarni (pictured at left) and his team will focus on determining how tumors evolve in response to immunotherapies, specifically examining PD-1 inhibition in lung cancer. Earlier detection of cancer and of its relapse is one of the key tenets of cancer treatment and control. However, in many cases, the tools for detecting cancer are not sufficiently sensitive until the cancer had reached a certain size and, in some cases, already metastasized. Kulkarni's research focuses on development and utilization of novel tools and technologies to help detect cancer earlier and non-invasively (through ‘liquid biopsies’) and to utilize these tools to study how tumors may evolve in response to treatment.

He has helped to develop and implement Vortex Chip, which is a novel circulating tumor cell (CTC) capture technology that allows for rapid isolation of highly purified CTCs by size alone. Vortex Chip allows us to isolate viable CTCs from patients rapidly and without need for external labeling. Cells captured using this chip can be analyzed for genetic changes that have occurred in response to treatment. These CTCs are thus an important and easily accessible source of cells for analysis. The overall goal is to help support ‘personalized medicine’ in oncology, not just as treatment is starting, but continuously throughout all treatment courses.


Dr. Nicholas Nickols (pictured at right), an Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology, who will Dr. Nicholas Nickols_headshotinvestigate how high dose radiotherapy for treatment of prostate cancer affects the local and systemic  immune response. Dr. Nickols will test the hypothesis that irradiation will trigger a heightened state of immune system activation and that this will have important anti-tumor cell effects. Or, put another way, Dr. Nickols is testing whether radiation treatment can activate the immune system to better fight off prostate cancer. 

The results of this study will provide important information that will guide current and future interventions that employ radiotherapy and immune system modulation in the treatment of prostate cancer.