News Release

Dr. Neville Sanjana receives 2017 Melanoma Research Alliance Young Investigator Award

Grant for research using advanced gene-editing tool to identify genetic mutations causing immunotherapy resistance in melanoma

Meeting Announcement

New York Genome Center

NEW YORK, NY (May 1, 2017) - Dr. Neville Sanjana, Core Faculty Member at the New York Genome Center and Assistant Professor in the Departments of Biology, Neuroscience and Physiology at New York University, has received a Young Investigator Award from the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA), the largest private funder of melanoma research.

In 2017 in the United States, over 87,000 individuals are expected to be diagnosed with melanoma and nearly 10,000 lives will be lost to the disease. May is Melanoma Awareness Month, and the MRA's timely support of Dr. Sanjana's research comes at a critical time with melanoma rates rising dramatically, outpacing almost all other cancers. Today, it is one of the most common cancers found among young women ages 25 to 29. The survival rate for patients diagnosed with stage IV is only 15-20 percent.

Dr. Sanjana's three-year grant was awarded for his research entitled "A human T cell genetic screen for melanoma immunotherapy," which aims to characterize genetic mutations that lead to immunotherapy resistance in melanoma.

"We are very proud that Dr. Sanjana's research has been recognized by the Melanoma Research Alliance," said Cheryl A. Moore, President and Chief Operating Officer of the New York Genome Center. "His work helps us to advance our mission of translating genomics into clinical solutions for serious diseases."

"We are excited to be funding Dr. Sanjana's research at the New York Genome Center and NYU," says Louise M. Perkins, PhD, Chief Science Officer at the Melanoma Research Alliance. "Fresh perspectives from young melanoma investigators using state-of-the-art gene-editing technologies have the potential to drive pivotal advances in the prevention and diagnosis of melanoma."

Dr. Sanjana's research will use the cutting-edge genome-editing tool known as CRISPR to unite, combine and analyze human melanoma cells and primary human immune or "T" cells to identify mechanisms of resistance to melanoma immunotherapy. Immunotherapy, which supplements and encourages the body's own immune system to attack cancer, was the first treatment of any kind ever to extend survival in metastatic melanoma. In some cases, however, melanoma cancer cells do not respond at all to immunotherapy and in others develop resistance to the treatment due to melanoma's high rate of mutation. Using high-throughput CRISPR screens, Dr. Sanjana and the Sanjana Lab will explore and study thousands of genetic mutations related to melanoma tumor resistance in a fraction of the time it would take to do this individually. Targeted DNA manipulation will allow for parallel editing of each individual gene in a genome, noncoding regions around a single gene of interest or a subset of genes. The resulting pool of engineered cells can be tested for virtually any biological phenotype to enable functional discoveries.

"Not all patients respond to immunotherapies and even for those that do respond, resistance often evolves over time due to the high mutation rate that is characteristic of melanoma," said Dr. Sanjana. "Our goal is to create a list of actionable mutations for patients enrolled in melanoma immunotherapy trials, which will allow oncologists to rapidly recognize mutations that render a melanoma tumor resistant to a treatment and switch the patient to a more effective therapy."


MRA's 2017 awards portfolio totals over $8.5 million and is funding 34 scientists at 28 leading academic institutions in six countries. The 34 funded programs aim to accelerate research into novel prevention and treatment strategies to drive better outcomes for melanoma patients and those at risk.

About the Melanoma Research Alliance

Founded in 2007 under the auspices of the Milken Institute, with the generous support of Debra and Leon Black, the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) exists to accelerate treatment options and find a cure for melanoma. As the largest nonprofit funder of melanoma research, it has dedicated $88 million and leveraged an additional $82 million towards its mission. Through its support, MRA has championed revolutions in immunotherapy, targeted therapies, novel combinations and diagnostics. Due to the ongoing support of its founders, 100 percent of donations to MRA go directly to its melanoma research program. MRA's ability to fund wide-ranging research in melanoma is amplified by unique collaborations and partnerships with individuals, private foundations, and corporations. Visit for more information, or follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

About the New York Genome Center

The New York Genome Center is an independent, nonprofit academic research organization at the forefront of transforming biomedical research and clinical care with the mission of saving lives. A collaboration of renowned academic, medical and industry leaders across the globe, the New York Genome Center's goal is to translate genomic research into development of new treatments, therapies and therapeutics against human disease. Its member organizations and partners are united in this unprecedented collaboration of technology, science and medicine, designed to harness the power of innovation and discoveries to advance genomic services. The New York Genome Center's member organizations are united in this unprecedented collaboration of technology, science and medicine. Their shared objective is the acceleration of medical genomics and precision medicine to benefit patients around the world. For more information, visit our website at

Member institutions include: Albert Einstein College of Medicine, American Museum of Natural History, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Columbia University, Cornell University/Weill Cornell Medicine, Hospital for Special Surgery, The Jackson Laboratory, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, The New York Stem Cell Foundation, New York University, Northwell Health (formerly North Shore-LIJ), Princeton University, The Rockefeller University, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Stony Brook University and IBM.


Karen Zipern, Director of Communications
New York Genome Center

Pamela Goldsmith, Director of Communications
Melanoma Research Alliance

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