Research

As Director of the Cancer and Immunotherapeutics Institute, Dr. Lee conducts her innovative research with her team at the Lundquist Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, CA.  Together with scientists and physicians both in the community and around the world, her research team focuses on various aspects of how the immune system works to fight cancer and infections.

Goals and Focus

 

According to the National Cancer Institute an estimated 1,638,910 men and women (848,170 men and 790,740 women) will be diagnosed with cancer and 577,190 men and women will die of cancer of all sites.  The on-going research aims to help address how microbes interact with the immune system to affect how it fights cancers to find new or improved treatments in an effort to lower these figures.

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 Research Highlights

 

  • Dr. Lee recently completed a study of the microbiome on various surfaces of skin and other areas where bacteria live on patients who get "Staph infections" in collaboration with Dr. Loren Miller and his expert team in infectious diseases who have a long standing track record studying community-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (CA-MRSA) infections and skin infections.  You may have read about CA-MRSA, commonly referred to in the lay press as superbugs, and their role in various epidemics of skin infections in athletes, incarcerated individuals, and other people who have close contact with each other. 

        

  • New drugs for the treatment of melanoma have had amazing success stories, but there are two problems:  1-only 10% of people treated respond and 2-eventually the cancer comes back.  All people are different; their immune systems will vary.  Not everyone will need a certain pathway.  We have found that immune pathways are present in tumors of metastatic melanoma patients who have long term survival, pointing again to the importance of the immune system in cancer.  By continuing to study the differences in those long term survivors compared to those who succumbed to cancer, we will identify the common themes of immunity that make up a successful immune response, allowing us to know what pathways need bolstering.  Though our initial focus is on melanoma, the immune pathways we find may have relevance and be applicable to other solid tumors in general such as breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer.  Dr. Lee in collaboration with her colleagues at Universität Bern recently published their discovery of an immune signature that correlates with survival in  melanoma patients.

  • For decades it has been observed that tumors have found ways to hide from the immune system.  We our utilizing current immune methodologies to identify what factors are made by the cancer to prevent successful immunity, thus providing another target to shoot in the war against cancer.  We are also studying whether mechanisms in which the immune system attacks itself or creates so much inflammation that it causes tissue destruction in the form of skin rashes, ulcers, boils, and other conditions, which might be harnessed to fight cancer.

Research Initiatives

Thank you for your interest in our efforts to meet the needs of the County of Los Angeles through our work for the underserved at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and our research at the Lundquist on the Harbor campus. 

 

The mission of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center is to provide high quality, cost-effective, patient-centered care through leadership in medical practice, education, and research.  

 

Having moved our research program to the Lundquist in late 2016, we are continuing our prior research efforts to improve patient outcomes through our melanoma research, identify new uses for previously understudied bacteria associated with breast cancer, and investigating how microbes interact with the immune system to aid (or impair) the body’s ability to fight cancer. 

 

The rich research environment at the Lundquist opens new areas of research where the experience of my team can provide additional capabilities in immunologic and computational/bioinformatics expertise to propel new projects forward.  We are currently engaged in a study investigating the potential role of microbes in fighting melanoma, made possible by the Eastwood Charitable Fund and the Kenneth T. and Eileen L. Norris Foundation.  Based on our experience in the study of colon cancer, we have hints that the bacteria found in the tumors may affect outcomes.  We are currently testing whether these bacteria might interact with the body’s immune system to affect the ability to fight the cancer, or perhaps cripple the immune system so that the cancer can spread more easily.  Hints may also be gained from prognostic biomarkers in melanoma.