Ross L. Pearlman is a 3rd year medical student at the University of Alabama School of Medicine. He graduated Summa Cum Laude with honors from Birmingham Southern College in 2014 with a degree in biology and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa. During his undergraduate years, Ross studied membrane trafficking using Schizosaccharomyces pombe (fission yeast) models and presented his research at the Southeastern Regional Yeast Meeting (SERYM) in 2013, receiving “First Prize” for Undergraduate Platform Presentations.
After coming to medical school, Ross became interested in studying cancer pathogenesis and treatment. During his Foundations of Basic Science modules at UAB, he learned more about the central role that cell signaling plays in tumor progression. Ross joined the CaRES program during Summer 2015 to pursue research with Dr. Farrukh Afaq in the Department of Dermatology. The CaRES program offered him an opportunity to purse an internship studying melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.
Despite many novel treatment options becoming available in the past decade, the survival rate for patients with metastatic melanoma has not improved. For this reason, novel approaches to melanoma therapeutics are necessary. They hypothesized that plumbagin, a phytochemical found in flowers and roots of the Plumbaginaceae family, induces apoptosis in melanoma cell lines of various genetic backgrounds by downregulating the PI3K/AKT/mTOR axis. Ross shared preliminary results from this study in an oral presentation at the 2015 Medical Student Research Day, earning a “Best Abstract” award and the 2015 CaRES Program Travel Scholarship Award. This award is given to the best overall cancer research project by a medical student and allowed him to present his work in May 2016 at the Society of Investigative Dermatology 75th Annual Conference. Ross’ abstract was recently published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.
Currently, Ross is continuing to study the role of plumbagin as a potential monotherapy or adjuvant agent. Further research into the effects of plumbagin on melanoma is being supported by an American Cancer Society Institutional Research Grant. He is conducting in vivo studies to assess the efficacy of plumbagin alone and in combination with vemurafenib on tumor growth and apoptosis in athymic nude mice subcutaneously implanted with melanoma cells. He is also working on authoring a review of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition in melanoma.
Outside of research, Ross has served as member of the Student Senate while at UASOM and enjoys spending his free time outdoors. He is thankful for the opportunities that the CaRES program has given him, his education at UASOM, and his family.