dr. Eva Hulstaert (MD)
The mortality rates in metastatic melanoma patients remain high, despite recent therapeutic developments. New therapeutic agents, such as BRAF inhibitors and immune checkpoint inhibitors, can be highly effective in some patients leading to a tremendous survival gain. Unfortunately, a substantial proportion of patients either do not respond or develop therapy resistance.
In order to identify a more effective treatment for metastatic melanoma patients, we need to improve our insight in the metastatic process and the different players that are involved. One of these players is circulating non-coding RNA. These RNA molecules are not translated into proteins. Nevertheless, there is growing evidence that non-coding RNAs play an important role in gene regulation, including oncogenesis. Non-coding RNAs can be found in the blood stream as free molecules, but they can also be found in circulating vesicles, called exosomes. Exosomes are small vesicles released by melanoma cells, that can migrate to specific organs and affect the behavior of normal resident cells, hereby promoting metastasis formation at these sites. The aim of this project is to characterize the non-coding RNA content in plasma and in circulating exosomes of melanoma patients.
Ultimately, this project may result in the identification of metastasis-associated biomarkers and novel therapeutic targets to block or prevent the metastatic process in melanoma patients.
Besides the above mentioned project on metastatic melanoma, I also work on the Human Biofluid RNA Atlas Project.
Where most liquid biopsy studies focus on plasma or serum, other biofluids may contain more informative RNA molecules, depending on the type of disease. In the Human Biofluid RNA Atlas we present an unprecedented atlas of messenger, circular and small RNA transcriptomes of a comprehensive collection of 20 different human biofluids. Each biofluid transcriptome is enriched for RNA molecules derived from specific tissues and cell types. Our atlas enables a more informed selection of the most relevant biofluid to monitor particular diseases.
Understanding the fundamental biology underlying human health and disease was an important reason for me to study medicine. I graduated as a medical doctor in 2016 at Ghent University. Subsequently I worked as a dermatology trainee at the university hospital of Ghent. In the clinic, I was confronted with the limitations of the current treatments for metastatic melanoma patients. My scientific curiosity and clinical experience motivated me to start a PhD project in 2017 in the lab for functional cancer genomics and applied bioinformatics. I am currently supported by a PhD fellowship of the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO). The aim of my research is to identify new and reliable biomarkers with diagnostic, prognostic and predictive potential in cutaneous melanoma. I hope one day these new insights will lead to improvements in patient care.
- Artificial intelligence in dermato-oncology : a joint clinical and data science perspective. International Journal of Dermatology, 2019. (PMID=31149729)
- Long non-coding RNAs in cutaneous melanoma: clinical perspectives. Oncotarget, 2017. (PMID: 28415644)