Dr. Kunal Rai
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Department of Genomic Medicine
Cancer cells acquire genetic and epigenetic alterations that drive progression through multiple steps of tumor evolution. We have limited understanding of the extent and nature of epigenetic alterations in cancers and their functional contribution. Our lab focuses on understanding the role of epigenome in cancer progression and therapeutic responses. We utilize cutting-edge epigenomic tools to define epigenome as well as utilize unbiased screening approaches to find new epigenetic players that regulate tumorigenesis. Using high-through ChIP-Sequencing approach, we have recently characterized epigenome changes in melanoma progression and learned new concepts. Furthermore, we have utilized unbiased screening approaches in orthotopic mouse models to identify epigenetic factors that play important roles in melanoma progression. We defined the mechanisms of action of some of these factors including RNF2, MLL2 and UCHL5. Currently, there are three major efforts in the lab: 1) building chromatin state maps from genomically and clinically characterized tumor samples as well as those that have been treated with different therapeutic agents to better understand changes associated with different steps during tumor evolution and identify those chromatin states that associate with therapy response, 2) defining epigenetic factors that may be co-targeted to improve response rates of currently used therapies by means of unbiased screens, 3) building transgenic mouse models for different tumor types based on the genetic alterations in epigenetic machinery to better understand roles of these potential epigenetic drivers of tumorigenesis as well as define new tumor biology.