Big Ideas

Antoni Ribas, M.D.

October 5, 2011

In 2007, The V Foundation awarded UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center a grant funded by the Gil Nickel Memorial for melanoma research. This grant was overseen by Dr. Antoni Ribas, a top medical oncologist at UCLA and the Director of the Tumor Immunology Program Area at the cancer center. Since then, Ribas and his team of post-doctoral researchers have been working to harness the immune system to fight metastatic melanoma, which is the most aggressive form of skin cancer.

The grant awarded by The V Foundation funded the research and salaries of three post-doctoral researchers in Ribas’ laboratory. These three researchers are exploring the biology of the cancer and attempting to control it using new therapies and drugs.

Dr. Richard Koya was the first post-doctoral researcher who was funded. His research was published in a prominent journal, and he has since become a faculty member in surgery at UCLA. The second post-doctoral fellow was Dr. Erica von Euw. Dr. von Euw is now on her second post-doctoral fellowship at UCLA. The third post-doctoral fellow was Dr. Helena Esquin. Dr. Esquin is currently working in Dr. Ribas’ lab trying to harness the immune system to fight cancer.

Ribas said that they are making progress with ways to treat the cancer, but he now wants to take the research a step further. “We want to understand when [the cancer] becomes resistant to this treatment or understand the cases that do not respond to this treatment,” he said.

Ribas explained that in order to pursue cutting-edge research and treatments, doctors rely on philanthropic funds like The V Foundation. He said that doctors cannot ask for grants from traditional funding mechanisms without providing a lot of background data, and therefore The V Foundation gives researchers the opportunity for that first step.

“V Foundation funds are really critical for our ability continue the lines of research or start new lines of research,” said Dr. Ribas.