Alexandra Drakaki, MD

Assistant Professor, Division of Hematology Oncology, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

I am an assistant professor in the Division of Hematology/Oncology at UCLA and I participate in the cancer research program at Translational Oncology Research Lab (Director: Dr. Dennis Slamon). My current research focus is to study the role of microRNAs in the pathogenesis of oncogenesis and develop novel microRNA-based therapeutics for cancer patients. I have been interested in studying the role of microRNAs in human diseases during my residency at Tufts University in Boston. My work related to the identification of a novel microRNA signature in cancer received the best basic research award from the American College of Physicians (ACP). Furthermore, during my fellowship in Harvard Medical School, my research related to identifying the role of microRNAs in liver cancer, received the Merit Award during the GI ASCO annual meeting in 2013. My PhD thesis is based on that work. Currently, I am highly interested in developing novel drugs targeting oncogenic microRNAs in liver cancer, aiming to potentially initiate a phase I clinical trial. Our initial data revealed the potential clinical and functional significance of miR-9 in hepatocellular cancer. Importantly, miR-9 is highly expressed in liver cancer and is a regulator of an inflammatory response mediated by NF-κB. Furthermore, miR-9 overexpression induces an epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in human hepatocytes, inducing their invasiveness and metastatic potential, through direct suppression of E-cadherin mRNA levels. Importantly, we have used a novel chemical inhibitor of miR-9 expression that is highly effective to suppress liver cancer growth in vitro. Here, we propose to evaluate the therapeutic potential of the miR-9 chemical inhibitor in different cellular and mouse models of hepatocellular oncogenesis. These experiments will create the basis to initiate a clinical trial for liver cancer patients at UCLA, by using the miR-9 chemical inhibitor. I have also received a CURE/CTSI Pilot and Feasibility award for 2015-2016.