Funding the Best: Dr. Mazhar Adli

Imagine that you’re a librarian. You have hundreds of thousands of books to manage. One day, you find out there is an error with a single sentence in one book. Instead of replacing all the books to hopefully correct the improper sentence in one book, as has been done for many years prior, you use new technology to find the specific sentence in the specific book causing the issues.

How does this relate to cancer research? The library analogy is a favorite of Dr. Mazhar Adli of the University of Virginia Cancer Center, a recipient of a 2014 V Scholar Grant who is making waves with his research on epigenetics. “We can imagine that our genome is a big library. In many disease situations, the information in some section of our genomic library is improperly used,” says Adli. “We are using whole genome approaches to find out which part of the genome is not functioning properly. Then we are developing targeted epigenetic therapy to reprogram the aberrantly regulated sections of the genome. If one book is misplaced, we don’t replace every book. We find the wrong book and repair it.”

Adli’s research involves using new technology (called CRISPR, or clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats) to learn more about the epigenetic process. “New technology has helped revolutionize the field of gene editing,” said Adli. “We are now repurposing this technology to do epigenetic editing. Our hope is we will be able to change or therapeutically interfere with just the affected areas of the genome, rather than prescribing drugs that simply affect the genome in its entirety.”

Success is coming quickly for Adli. After just a year of his lab being set up, his paper on this new technology has been cited nearly 200 times. Not content to just focus on his work in the lab, he regularly speaks to younger medical students to encourage them to pursue cancer research, including speaking to youth in his home country of Turkey.

With the help of brilliant, dedicated minds like Adli, not only will we continue to see amazing medical breakthroughs, but also a new generation of researchers with a similar passion in the fight against cancer.