Dr. Tan Rajakulendran – 2017 DCMF Award Winner


Tan Rajakulendran is a no ordinary dermatology medical resident – he is also a scientist whose groundbreaking work in melanoma is already benefiting melanoma patients worldwide.

The David Cornfield Melanoma Fund is proud to celebrate Tan, MD, PhD, as the 2017 co-recipient of the inaugural DCMF Award. The DCMF Award was jointly established by the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund and the University of Toronto to support and advance melanoma research. The DCMF Award is available to residents and fellows in the Department of Medicine, or a student in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, who has demonstrated a special interest and research achievements in the field of melanoma.

Tan’s impact on our understanding of melanoma began during his PhD where his team made significant breakthroughs. Intrigued by the 2002 UK discovery that 2/3 of common melanomas have a BRAF gene mutation, Tan’s team began to study the behaviour of the BRAF protein. They were particularly interested in understanding how the mutation in melanoma causes BRAF to always stay on. In 2009, their research led to the discovery of BRAF’s main ‘on/off switch’, which laid the groundwork for a new class of anti-cancer therapies. It also garnered Tan recognition for making inroads into understanding the role of other genes that work in concert with BRAF in melanoma.

After completing his PhD, Tan entered medical school. As a clinician-scientist, Tan’s research has continued throughout his medical training. In 2017, in collaboration with several groups in Canada and the US, he was involved in uncovering an important molecular basis for how another gene called RAS plays a role in melanoma. This discovery has opened an exciting avenue for future drug designs in melanoma as well as other cancers.

Once his medical residency is complete, Tan plans to make melanoma the focus of both his research and clinical work – which will make him the only melanoma-focused dermatologist-scientist in Canada.

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