Dr. Bajaj has a long-standing interest in defining the role of cancer-niche interactions on promoting disease progression. As a graduate student at the National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, she identified the adhesive molecule CD66 as a novel marker of metastasis associated cervical cancer stem cells. Since adhesive signaling is known to promote cell-cell as well as cell-matrix interactions, she became interested in determining the functional role of these interactions in sustaining the disease propagating cancer stem cells. As a postdoctoral fellow and an American Society of Hematology Scholar in Prof. Tannishtha Reya’s lab at UCSD, she identified a critical role for CD98 and Tetraspanin3-mediated adhesive interactions of aggressive myeloid leukemia stem cells (LSCs) with their niche on disease progression. These studies provide genetic and mechanistic support for the use of Tspan3 and CD98 inhibitory antibodies in adult and pediatric myeloid leukemias. In an effort to comprehensively define the biological regulators of aggressive leukemias, including those expressed on the cell surface and respond to cues from the niche, she carried out an ambitious genome-wide in vivo CRISPR/Cas9 screen in LSCs. This work not only identified known developmental and oncogenic signals essential for leukemogenesis, but also led to the discovery of several novel genes and programs essential for myeloid leukemia growth, such as the RNA-binding protein Staufen 2. Dr. Bajaj moved to the Wilmot Cancer Center at the University of Rochester Medical Center in November 2019 to start her independent laboratory focusing on defining LSC-microenvironmental interactions critical for leukemic growth and progression.
Awards and Honors
2021: American Society of Hematology Scholar Award (Junior Faculty)
2017: American Society of Hematology Scholar Award (Postdoctoral Fellow)
2014: National Cancer Center Post-Doctoral Fellowship