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Fighting a Rare and Understudied Melanoma Subtype

Read Time: 2 minutes

Robert Judson-Torres, PhD
Cancer Researcher at Huntsman Cancer Institute
Assistant Professor of Dermatology, University of Utah

Robert Judson-Torres, PhD
Robert Judson-Torres, PhD

“My 5 is for the patients with rare and understudied cancers—their bravery and patience while facing an unknown beast is our inspiration. Their eagerness to help understand the nature and source of their struggles is a gift.” —Robert Judson-Torres

For Robert Judson-Torres, his intellectual curiosity in science is both existential and altogether real and urgent. It’s overwhelming, he says, to think that every cell in our body has the same or approximately the same genome, but cells do so many different functions, working together to produce living, thinking, breathing, loving individuals.

“Choosing to focus on cancer research and specifically melanoma is my way of indulging in the infinite fascinating questions about how the cells in our bodies work,” Judson-Torres says. “And also have the answers to those questions be meaningful and change lives.”

Due to the economic effects of COVID-19, many cancer laboratories have had to enact hiring freezes. So receiving the 5 For The Fight Fellowship allows Judson-Torres to hire the necessary team to further high-risk, high-reward projects investigating rare subtypes of melanoma.

“We’ve made so much progress with melanoma, but much of that progress has been limited to specific kinds. Other subtypes that are predominant in Asian and African populations remain understudied and patients have few options,” Judson-Torres says. “There are still those who fail the available therapies. We investigate the source of their cancers to develop novel strategies for combatting them.”

Advice for Young Scientists

“Einstein is attributed to saying, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.’ The convincing summaries and crisp figures in reviews, textbooks, and even the primary literature can spin the illusion that so much is known about biology, that almost everything is known. I’d argue almost nothing is known. We have so much more to discover. Knowledge is foundational, but perceived knowledge is crippling. When we bring in new minds that are not already biased toward what we think we know—that is what pushes the field forward.”

Cancer touches all of us.