What we do

Even though we now know more about cancer than ever, it still outsmarts us and costs 10 million lives globally each year. Cancer occurs when mutated cells start growing uncontrollably and invade healthy tissues. In doing so, malignant cells develop mechanisms to evade the immune system and can even co-opt normal processes to their benefit. The difficulty in dealing with cancer comes from the fact that it is not one type of disease and it differs quite a lot from person to person.

A new class of drugs, called immunotherapy, emerged in the last decade and changed the outlook in cancer. Immunotherapy activates the immune system to combat malignant cells and it can lead to clearance of the tumor completely. However, this great new therapy works only for 20-60% of patients, prompting a wide scientific community to seek new approaches and clinical targets. Ultimately, we still don’t know why certain patients respond to treatment and others don’t. Thus, an increased understanding of the mechanisms of tumor immunity is critical for improving cancer outcomes.

Our lab tries to figure out how noncoding RNAs fit in the picture of tumor immunology. Specifically, we study long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) and microRNAs (miRNAs) functioning in tumor cells and in the immune cells. We also develop new algorithms and interfaces to facilitate high-throughput data analysis.


We are always looking for great people to join our group. If you’d like to be one of the science ninjas investigating new mechanisms in cancer, shoot me an email at


Our work is funded by a number of organizations including European Molecular Biology Organizaiton (EMBO), Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK), Turkish Academy of Sciences (TUBA), Turkish National Institute of Health (TUSEB), and internal grants from Izmir Institute of Technology (IzTech)

  • EMBO-Installation Grant (2024-2027): Investigating long noncoding RNAs in melanomagenesis and immunoevasion

  • TUBITAK-2232 (2022-2025): Characterizing the immunomodulatory miRNA networks in murine melanoma and tumor-specific T lymphocytes

  • TUBITAK-1001 (2022-2025): Investigating the role of NRAV long noncoding RNA in regulating melanoma interferon response

  • TUBA-GEBIP (2022-2025): Investigating PI3K-dependent immunomodulation by DANCR lncRNA in cancer

  • IzTech-AUDP (2023-2025): Development of peptide therapeutics against PD-1

Lab members

H. Atakan Ekiz: Dr. Ekiz is the group leader of Tumor Immunology and Bioinformatics Lab at IzTech. He completed his PhD in Molecular Biology and MSc in Clinical Investigation at the University of Utah in parallel. He is fascinated by the mechanisms by which the immune system interacts with cancer. When he is not doing science, he can be found playing guitar or piano, and dancing salsa or Argentine Tango.

Emre Kus: Emre is a Ph.D. student in the lab. Emre investigates the role of microRNAs in cancer and develops user-friendly interfaces that enable in-depth analyses of high-throughput data. He leads a group that organizes awareness and entertainment events and he is also the head of the IzTech Argentine Tango community. In his spare time, he loves to travel the world and discover new places.

Busra Agir: Busra completed her BSc in Molecular Biology at Gebze Technical University as the highest scoring student of her class. She is a master’s student in the lab working in the TUBITAK-2232 project that focuses on investigating the roles of tumor- and T cell-specific miRNAs in controlling tumor immunity. Additionally, she performs single-cell RNA sequencing analyses with various collaborators of the lab using R programming language. In her free time, she likes playing the ney (a type of reed flute), traveling, and shopping.

Hilal Kayacan: Hilal is a master’s student in the lab. Her work focuses on understanding miRNA networks in the immune modulation of melanoma as part of the TUBITAK-2232 project. She is also prolific in analyzing high-throughput data including that derived from single-cell-RNA sequencing. Besides research, she likes reading books, doing yoga, and nature walks.

Kadir Durmus: Kadir is a master’s student in the lab. He is currently studying the role of lncRNAs NRAV in melanoma immunoevasion. Kadir is excited by the thought of discovering new mechanisms in biology. When he is not doing science, he can be found playing music, watching performing arts, and traveling.

Emre Kilic: Emre is a master’s student in the lab navigating the realms of both dry and wet research through a multi-disciplinary approach. His studies focus on characterizing the role of lncRNAs in tumor immunity. Additionally, he develops analysis tools for single cell RNA sequencing and high-throughput data analysis. Beyond the lab, he finds joy in dancing, immersing himself in nature, and mastering new languages..

Cagatay Sahin: Cagatay is a highly driven, curious, mission-oriented, and big-data-loving master’s student who enjoys being a part of a collaborative environment. Within the team, he is working on a project about the long non-coding RNA NRAV’s effect on interferon response, cancer prognosis, and therapy resistance. In the dry lab, he is focused on developing Shiny-based bioinformatic analysis tools and single-cell transcriptomics. Beyond his academic pursuits, he is an avid reader, dedicated to exploring diverse genres of music, and he enjoys channeling his passion for cinema through writing movie critiques.

Fatih Sezer: Fatih is a master’s student working in the lab since 2023. He studies the roles of DANCR lncRNA in oncogenic signaling and immunomodulation. Fatih also develops algorithms for integrative analyses of previously published transcriptomic data sets through ongoing collaborations. When he is not working, Fatih enjoys building plastic models and sports activities to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Ege Amirak: Ege is currently a master’s student in the lab. He actively seeks opportunities to enhance his skills and knowledge in immunology by participating in projects and expanding his network. With hard work and ambition, he plans to continue doing so in this rapidly developing world. Outside of the lab, he can be found on the court playing volleyball or among engineers developing a rover.

Arda Askin: Arda is an undergraduate researcher in the lab. He develops visual data analysis interfaces and machine learning algorithms for examining large scale cancer data. Arda loves exploring new subjects in natural and computational sciences. In his free time, he likes going to theater and riding his bike.


Lab’s totem: THE TOWER! Grants, scholarships, and papers are written on each step reminding us of how our successes build on top of one another

Lab meetings: The birthplace of many great ideas and weekly occasion to get unhealthy snacks

Symposia are great places for meeting new friends, hearing about new ideas, and gain access to free food

Happy faces after a working experiment

Our lab’s traditional New Years’ Party

Benefits of doing research at IzTech: 20 min from the sandy beaches

Music is food for the soul

Socializing at departmental events

With our superhero costumes on

IzTech hiking trails are a few minutes from our building
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