Emily Bernstein, PhD ‹ Back To 2014 Winners
Oncological Sciences and Dermatology
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
Due to resistance to all existing treatments, metastatic melanoma remains one of the most lethal forms of cancer. The epigenetic factor involved in melanoma drug resistance remain unknown.
Here we propose a combination of innovative and novel approaches to 1) identify epigenetic factor that mediate melanoma drug resistance and 2) understand how they work. Such studies will provide insight into the epigenetic factors that can be targeted for melanoma therapies.
Dr. Bernstein earned her BSc with honors in genetics from McGill University in 1998 and her PhD in genetics from Stony Brook University/Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 2003. She held a postdoctoral fellowship at The Rockefeller University supported by the National Science Foundation before joining the Mount Sinai faculty in 2008. She has made important scientific contributions to various areas of biology during her career, including understanding the basic mechanisms underlying RNA interference and chromatin regulation, and more recently, how the latter can impact on disease. Her laboratory studies epigenetic mechanisms underlying stem cell biology and reprogramming, and cancer initiation and progression with a focus on malignant melanoma. Her goal is to identify chromatin regulators that can be targeted therapeutically for melanoma patients, particularly those that have developed resistance to targeted therapies. Dr. Bernstein has been honored with prestigious awards such as the Ellison Medical Foundation New Scholar Award, a Research Scholar Award from the American Skin Association, and New York State Department of Health NYSTEM Award. She is currently the principal investigator of awards from the National Cancer Institute and the Melanoma Research Alliance focused on her epigenetic studies of melanoma.
“Targeting Epigenetic Modulators that Drive Melanoma Resistance to MAPK Signaling Inhibitors”
Melanocytes are the pigment producing cells that protect and color the skin. Cancer of melanocytes is called melanoma, which is the most deadly form of skin cancer. Melanoma is typically characterized by growth of melanocytes on the skin, following by invasion of these cells deep into the skin, which can result in the spread of cancer cells throughout the body.
“The prize is truly unique opportunity that will allow us to connect and translate our laboratory science to patient care.”
Once this has occurred, melanoma is highly resistant to standard cancer treatments. Unfortunately, recent therapies that provide remarkable patient benefit are short-lived because melanoma cells quickly become resistant to the drug. Therefore, novel approaches and drug targets are critically needed. Melanoma arises from a combination of genetic mutations in the cell that alter the DNA sequence in such a manner to drive cancer growth, invasion and survival. DNA in the cell is wrapped around a core of proteins into a complex called chromatin. Alterations to chromatin, which do not affect the sequence of the genetic code (referred to as epigenetics), also play a key role in cancer. However, the epigenetic factors involved in melanoma drug resistance remain unknown. Here we propose a combination of innovative and novel approaches to 1) identify novel epigenetic factors that mediate melanoma drug resistance and 2) understand how they work. Such studies will provide insight into epigenetic factors that can be targeted for melanoma therapies. This approach is highly clinically relevant, as it will provide rationale for combining epigenetic therapies with current front-line drugs, such as BRAF and MEK inhibitors.
“Innovation is a way to address challenges with the potential for major breakthroughs.”