Jatinder Lamba, professor in the College of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmacotherapy and Translational Research, studies how variations in a cancer patient’s genome influence their response to different treatments. Understanding why certain drugs work for some patients but not others requires close examination of the “molecular landscape” of leukemic cells, Lamba said, which can help clinicians hone in on precise targets for chemotherapies and predict how a patient will respond to them.
“The work we do spans various genomics strategies and across newly approved drugs and those that have been in use for decades,” she said. “The overarching goal is to figure out smart ways to treat patients using most effective drug combinations so they can have better outcomes. We use patient observations and lab-based validations to develop prediction models to guide better treatment strategies – and, finally, we bring them back to clinics to help patients.”
Developing effective cancer treatments that aren’t toxic to patients is central to Lamba’s work, and her findings offer a window into how understanding a patient’s genome can help clinicians develop personalized treatment plans. She specializes in acute myeloid leukemia, abbreviated AML, which is the second most common type of pediatric cancer and one of the most common leukemias in adults. Seventy percent of adult AML patients die within five years of receiving a diagnosis, Lamba said.
“Unfortunately, despite dismal outcomes in AML for the last four decades, the AML treatment has been predominantly standard chemotherapy without taking into account differences in patients’ genomes,” Lamba said. “We can use a patient’s genomics in order to really define what dose or drug combinations would be best for them. We can reduce toxicity without compromising efficacy by matching patient genomics to the right chemotherapeutic regimen.”
Lamba has been the principal investigator on grants totaling more than $3 million from the National Institutes of Health to study how a patient’s genetics can help predict whether they will respond better to standard chemotherapies or alternative combinations. She is also currently the principle investigator on two grants from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and the Florida Department of Health’s Live Like Bella Childhood Cancer Foundation to find new molecular markers to further hone AML treatments in children.
She has mentored more than 50 students and is currently the graduate coordinator in the Department of Pharmacotherapy and Translational Research. In 2017, she and her team were the first to find that a key genetic variation in some leukemic cells made certain patients less likely to respond to some cancer treatments.
“Graduate students and postdoctoral research associates in my group are amazing people doing amazing things. They keep me on my toes,” Lamba said. “They’re very enthusiastic next-generation scientists, with the common goal of improving treatment strategies in cancer.”
Lamba, who earned her master’s degree and Ph.D. from the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in India, arrived at UF in 2014 and was previously the director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Personalized Medicine.
Learn more about Lamba’s work.