CPRIT Graduate Scholars alumni earn their Ph.D. degrees from the MD Anderson UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in various facets of cancer research.
Colm Duffy, B.A.
James Allison Laboratory - Immunology Program
CRDuffy@mdanderson.org - ORCID: 0000-0001-6848-1486
CPRIT Graduate Scholar 2018-2019
Colm earned his B.A. with honors in Human Genetics from Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland). During his undergraduate career, he engaged in research on several projects in the laboratory of Dr. Seamus J. Martin including the expression and purification of human proteases implicated in skin inflammation using bacterial expression systems and subcloning of human IL-1Rrp2 into mammalian expression vector pcDNA3. He regularly presents his work at conferences, including the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Conference.
Colm's Research Interests:
My research focuses on reprogramming the epigenetic landscape and transcriptional profile of T cells with immune checkpoint blockade.
Taylor Chrisikos, B.S.
Stephanie Watowich Laboratory - Immunology Program
TTChrisikos@mdanderson.org - ORCID: 0000-0001-8966-4046
CPRIT Graduate Scholar 2017-2019
Taylor earned his B.S. in Pharmacology and Toxicology from The State University of New York at Buffalo (University of Buffalo), where he examined if ethanol and paraquat have synergistic effect of mouse microglia proliferation and activation with Dr. Rabin. He also worked on determining the effect of humanized anti-Thomsen-Friedenreich-antigen (anti-TF-ag) antibodies on mouse tumor cell proliferation.
Taylor's Research Interests:
My research focuses on further understanding the mechanism of regulation of innate and adaptive immunity by tumor microenvironments.
Erin Atkinson, B.S.
Bin Wang Laboratory - Genetics & Epigenetics Program
CPRIT Graduate Scholar 2015-2019
Erin earned a dual B.S. in Biology, specializing in Evolution and Ecology and B.A. in Spanish, specializing in Hispanic Studies, from the University of Texas at Austin. As an undergraduate, she participated in the UT Austin Freshman Research Initiative in the Discovering Signals Stream with Drs. Greg Clark and Stan Roux. She continued research in Dr. Atkinson's laboratory working with ethanol tolerance research in Drosophila models and with Dr. Juenger looking at the genetic basis and evolutionary significance of water-use traits in the model system Ipomopsis agreggata. Erin worked in a clinical pathology laboratory for two years, then joined GSBS. Here, she has won many awards and is active in student leadership.
Erin's Research Interests:
My dissertation project focuses on the characterization of a novel protein that I have determined to likely have a role in DNA damage response, DNA replication, and telomere maintenance.
Rhea Kang, B.S., Ph.D.
Francesca Cole Laboratory - Genetics & Epigenetics Program
Rhea.S.Kang@uth.tmc.edu - ORCID ID: 0000-0002-6104-0626
CPRIT Graduate Scholar 2017-2019
Current Position: Postdoctoral Fellow at MD Anderson Cancer Center since 2019.
Dr. Kang double majored in Biology (B.A.) and Nutritional Sciences (B.S.) at The University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Kang defended her Ph.D. dissertation, titled "Higher order chromosome organization and recombination dynamics of meiotic prophase I in mouse spermatocytes" in Spring 2019.
Dr. Kang's Research Interests:
My research involved elucidating temporal, spatial, and qualitative features of individual homologous recombination (HR) pathways that facilitate or hinder that pathway's ability to compensate for the loss of others. My primary goal was to establish a novel system that could interrogate HR pathways in vivo, in mammals, and at native genomic loci to define the kinetics and molecular features associated with particular HR pathways. I also assessed which HR pathways were utilized in the absence of others to determine potential therapeutic targets.
Vincent Bernard, B.S., M.S., Ph.D.
Anirban Maitra Laboratory - Cancer Biology Program
CPRIT Graduate Scholar 2015 - 2018 - ORCID: 0000-0003-1555-608X
Ph.D. dissertation defended Summer 2018.
Current Position: Postdoctoral Fellow at MD Anderson Cancer Center since September 2018.
Dr. Vincent Bernard earned his B.S. in Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering and continued on to earn an M.S. in Biotechnology, both from Johns Hopkins University. While in graduate school, he won numerous awards, including The President's Research Scholarship, American Legion Auxiliary Fellowship, and The Sylvan Rodriguez Foundation Scholarship. Dr. Bernard defended his Ph.D. dissertation, titled "Genetic Evolution and Prognostic Determinants of Pancreatic Cancer on Longitudinal Liquid Biopsies" in Summer 2018.
Dr. Bernard currently works in pancreatic research as a Postdoctoral Fellow at MD Anderson Cancer Center in the Department of Translational Molecular Pathology.
Erin Williams Lopez, B.A., Ph.D.
Andrew Gladden Laboratory - Genetics & Epigenetics Program
CPRIT Graduate Scholar 2017-2018 - ORCID: 0000-0001-9449-2269
Ph.D. dissertation defended in Spring 2018.
Current Position: Medical Science Liaison at Biofrontera Group since June 2018.
Dr. Erin Williams Lopez completed dual majors of a B.A. in Biology and a B.A. in Mathematics from the University of San Diego. During her undergraduate career she did research on the specification of serotonergic neurons in C. elegans in the lab of Curtis Loer, Ph.D. As a graduate student at MD Anderson Cancer Center, Erin was involved in many leadership and outreach activities including coordinating outreach events for the Outreach club. She won several awards, including the Rosalie B. Hite Fellowship, People's Choice at the GSBS Student Research Day Elevator Speech Competition, the John P. McGovern Award for Presentation Skills, the Student InterCouncil Academic Achievement Award, the Sylvan Rodriguez Foundation Scholarship Honoring George M. Stancel, Ph.D., and the American Legion Auxiliary Fellowship. Dr. Williams Lopez defended her Ph.D. dissertation titled, " The Role of Merlin and Apicobasal Polarity in Endometrial Development and Homeostasis" in Spring 2018.
Dr. Williams Lopez is currently a Medical Science Liaison in the area of dermatology with Biofrontera Group.
Nicolas Veland, B.S., Ph.D.
Taiping Chen Laboratory - Genetics and Epigenetics Program
CPRIT Graduate Scholar 2015-2018 - ORCID: 0000-0002-3096-7867
Ph.D. dissertation defended in Spring 2018.
Current Position: Postdoctoral Research Scientist at MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences since August 2018.
Dr. Nicolas Veland earned his B.S. in Biology from the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia in Peru. During his undergraduate years, he engaged in undergraduate research in molecular epidemiology in Leishmaniasis with Dr. Jorge Arevalo and Malaria with Dr. Dionica Gamboa. Nicolas won many awards as a graduate student, including the Andrew-Sowell-Wade Huggins Scholarship in Cancer Research and the Julia Jones Matthews Cancer Research Scholar Award at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Dr. Veland defended his Ph.D. dissertation titled, "The Regulation of DNA Methylation in Mammalian Development and Cancer" in Spring 2018. He has authored and co-authored numerous publications, and presented his research at numerous conferences around the world.
Dr. Veland is currently a Postdoctoral Research Scientist in the Lymphocyte Development Group at MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences. His current research interests are focused on understanding epigenetic mechanisms during normal mammalian development and in diseases, using stem cells as models. When he's not in lab, Nicolas enjoys hiking with his family and playing soccer.
Ashvin Jaiswal, B.S., M.S., Ph.D.
Michael Curran Laboratory - Immunology Program
CPRIT Graduate Scholar 2017-2018 - ORCID: 0000-0002-5550-5589
Ph.D. dissertation defended in Spring 2018.
Current Position: Scientist-I at MedImmune Astra Zeneca since May 2018.
Dr. Jaiswal earned his B.S. in Pharmaceutical Sciences from Amravati University in India. He then moved to the U.S. and earned his Master's degree from Idaho State University. Ashvin earned a number of awards during his time at the MD Anderson UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, including the Andrew Sowell-Wade Huggins Endowed Scholarship, the Steve Lasher and Janiece Longoria Graduate Student Research Award in Cancer Biology, and the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) Presidential Travel Award. He defended his Ph.D. thesis, titled "Tumor Immunotherapy: Mechanisms of Acquired Resistance and Characterization of Immune Related Toxicities" in Spring 2018. During his graduate studies, Ashvin identified and characterized the resistance mechanisms tumors use to evade immunotherapeutic responses by establishing a murine model of melanoma designed to elucidate the molecular mechanisms underlying immunotherapy resistance. Ashvin collaboration with other graduate student in his laboratory to investigate 4-1BB agonist antibodies in the induction of liver toxicity. Together, they found that activation of 4-1BB on liver myeloid cells is essential to initiate hepatitis. Once activated, these cells produce interleukin-27 that is required for liver toxicity. CD8 T cells infiltrate the liver in response to this myeloid activation and mediate tissue damage. Co-administration of CTLA-4 and/or CCR2 blockade may minimize hepatitis, but yield equal or greater antitumor immunity. Of the CPRIT Graduate Scholar Program, Ashvin says: It provided a seminar platform where scholars could present their work and get feedback from professors and other scholars. Many times, scholars would also receive advice about career paths and opportunities. The CPRIT Graduate Scholar Award not only gave me confidence, but also career advice.
Dr. Jaiswal currently works as Scientist in the Research Oncology Department for MedImmune. In this role, he works on identification, characterization, and validation of immuno-oncology targets and engages in basic tumor immunology. He loves to spend time with his wife, who is a computer engineer, and his young daughter and often plays badminton in his spare time.
Whijae Roh, B.S., M.S., Ph.D.
Andrew Futreal Laboratory - Cancer Biology Program
CPRIT Graduate Scholar 2015 - 2017 - ORCID: 000-0002-7395-9939
Ph.D. dissertation defended Fall 2017.
Current Position: Postdoctoral Fellow at Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University
Dr. Whijae Roh earned his B.S. in Biology from Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and dual M.S. degrees in Biomedical Engineering and Biostatistics from the University of Michigan. He worked for a few years as Associate Research Engineer at Bioneer, Inc. in Korea and then as Assistant Research Scientist at the Genomic Medicine Institute at Seoul National University College of Medicine before moving to Houston to pursue his Ph.D. in Cancer Biology. Whijae defended his Ph.D. dissertation, titled "Integrative Cancer Immunogenomic Analysis of Serial Melanoma Biopsies Reveals Correlates of Response and Resistance to Sequential CTLA-4 and PD-1 Blockade Treatment" under the mentorship of Dr. P. Andrew Futreal and co-mentorship of 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine awardee, Dr. James P. Allison. He collected pre/on/post-treatment tumor samples and performed whole exome sequencing, mRNA expression profiling, IHC, and TCR-seq from a cohort of melanoma patients treated with sequential CTLA-4 and PD-1 blockade. His research found that mRNA expression signatures from on-treatment tumor biopsy can be useful as a biomarker of response and increased copy number alterations were associated with higher resistance.
Dr. Roh is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Getz laboratory at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University in Cambridge, MA. He is particularly interested in understanding the spatial and temporal patterns of tumor progression under various sources of selective pressures, such as therapy and tumor microenvironment, in individual cancer patients towards developing and delivering personalized cancer diagnosis and treatment. In his current role at the Broad Institute, Dr. Roh investigates survival mechanisms of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in the bloodstream by high-throughput sequencing of CTCs, CTC lines cultured ex vivo, and CTC-derived mouse models. Dr. Roh looks forward to spending time with his wife and son when he leaves the lab each evening.
Iman Doostan, M.D., Ph.D.
Khandan Keyomarsi Laboratory - Cancer Biology Program
CPRIT Graduate Scholar 2012-2017 - ORCID: 0000-0001-6697-9555
Ph.D. dissertation defended Fall 2017.
Current Position: Resident Physician at New York Medical College since July 2016.
Dr. Iman Doostan earned his M.D. from Isfahan University of Medical Sciences in Iran, where he also completed his general physician internship. He served two years as a general practitioner at Omid Cancer Hospital before moving to the United States to complete his Ph.D. in Cancer Biology at the MD Anderson UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. His Ph.D. project focused on low molecular weight forms of cyclin E (LMW-E) and their use to identify hormone-receptor positive tumors that are unresponsive to neoadjuvant aromatase inhibition (AI) therapy. His work showed that the mechanism of resistance is through bypass of the G1 to S phase transition, resulting in the inability of AIs to induce a cytostatic effect. His research showed that LMW-E expression in tumors from patients who received neoadjuvant AI therapy is associated with diminished response and poor recurrence-free interval. Furthermore, xenografts with induced LMW-E expression became unresponsive to letrozole. Lastly, LMW-E expression overcame cell cycle inhibition by AIs in a CDK2/Rb-dependent manner and inhibition of CDK2 by dinaciclib reversed LMW-E-mediated resistance. Collectively, these findings suggest that cell cycle deregulation by LMW-E mediates resistance to AIs and a combination of CDK2 inhibitors and AIs may be an effective treatment in patients with HR-positive tumors that express LMW-E. He defended his Ph.D. dissertation, titled "Cytoplasmic Cyclin E Mediates Resistance in to Aromatase Inhibitors in Breast Cancer" in Fall 2017.
Iman reflects on the impact the CPRIT Graduate Scholar Program has had in his career "As a physician working in a cancer hospital abroad, I was involved in treating patients with advanced stage of cancer that are often resistant to current treatment regiments. I realized understanding the biology of cancer cells and identifying pathways of resistance are important to develop novel treatments in order to improve survival of these patients. This motivated me to apply for graduate school and enroll in cancer biology program at University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center. Throughout my graduate study, CPRIT funding enabled us to further explore one of the mechanisms of resistance to aromatase inhibitors, the main treatment for post-menopausal hormone receptor positive breast cancer patients."
Dr. Doostan is currently an Internal Medicine Resident Physician at New York Medical College in Manhattan, NY. His interest in hematology-oncology dates back to his initial years of medical school when he volunteered in translational research projects in oncology. Oncology and cancer care is Dr. Doostan's passion and he enjoys taking care of cancer patients and seeking research opportunities to improve early diagnosis, identification of biomarkers of response, and development of novel treatments. Outside of the hospital and laboratory, he enjoys spending time with his family and playing violin and basketball in his spare time.
Christopher M. Walker, B.S., Ph.D.
James Bankson Laboratory - Medical Physics Program
CPRIT Graduate Scholar 2012-2016 - ORCID: 0000-0002-6381-8737
Ph.D. dissertation defended Fall 2016.
Current Position: Medical Physics Fellow at MD Anderson Cancer Center since 2016.
Dr. Christopher M. Walker earned his B.S. in Physics from Trinity University and his Ph.D. in Medical Physics from the MD Anderson UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. His PhD project focused on developing methods for quantitative measurement of hyperpolarized agents to overcome restrictions imposed by the transient hyperpolarized state and the complexity inherent in biological systems. Dr. Walker's research designed a novel simulation architecture that combined classical chemical kinetics with the basic physics of nuclear magnetic resonance and coupled them to multiple perfusion models towards creating an infrastructure where acquisition strategies can be developed, compared, optimized and validated. Simulation results showed that changes in the acquisition strategy used will affect the resulting quantification of chemical exchange rates and suggested that any bias that is imposed by the acquisition strategy can be avoided by using optimized pulse sequences. To validate these predictions, a phantom system was developed that allows controllable chemical conversion of hyperpolarized pyruvate into lactate with a variability less than 20%. Using this phantom system, studies showed that poorly optimized pulse sequences significantly reduced the measured value of the chemical exchange rates, whereas optimized pulse sequences showed no significant difference in chemical exchange measurements. In order to test simulation predictions for a perfused system, an animal cohort with orthotropic anaplastic thyroid cancer was scanned with multiple sequences. Again, optimized sequences showed no significant difference in measured exchange rates while poorly designed sequences significantly underestimated the exchange rates, which is consistent with the simulation results. These validation studies suggest that this simulation architecture will be a powerful tool for developing and optimizing acquisition and quantization methods for hyperpolarized magnetic resonance imaging. He defended his Ph.D. dissertation, titled "Novel Simulation to Avoid Bias in Measurement of Hyperpolarized Pyruvate: Demonstrated in Phantom and In Vivo" in Fall 2016.
Of the CPRIT Graduate Scholar Program, Chris describes "As a medical physics student I had only a cursory exposure to cancer biology. The CPRIT program gave me the opportunity to expand upon that greatly through the additional course work as well as the journal club and annual meeting. While by no means comprehensive, the additional cancer biology understanding has been invaluable to my work as an imaging scientist given the rapid translation from anatomic imaging to functional and molecular imaging that is now critical cancer management."
Dr. Walker is currently a Medical Physics Fellow at MD Anderson Cancer Center in the Department of Imaging Physics, where he splits his time between conducting research in hyperpolarized MRI and serving cancer patients as a clinical medical physics resident. His current research focuses on development and optimization of the entire hyperpolarized imaging chain using a broad range of model systems from simulation to clinical data to ensure that measurements made with hyperpolarized MRI are robust enough that they can plan a critical role in personalized cancer management. He currently provides research support to ongoing clinical research to determine the specificity and sensitivity of hyperpolarized MRI in prostate cancer.
Marco L. Leung, B.S., Ph.D.
Nicholas E. Navin Laboratory - Genes & Development Program
CPRIT Graduate Scholar 2014-2016
Ph.D. dissertation defended Spring 2016.
Current Position: Assistant Clinical Laboratory Director, Center for Applied Genomics at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Dr. Marco L. Leung received his B.S. in Molecular Genetics from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, where he served as a Research Assistant in the Department of Immunology for a year following his degree. He then joined the MD Anderson UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, where he earned his Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences under the mentorship of Dr. Nicholas E. Navin. Marco's thesis project was to delineate tumor evolution and resolve intratumor heterogeneity by developing novel single cell sequencing methods and investigating the mechanisms by which colorectal tumors metastasize. He defended his Ph.D. dissertation titled, "Investigating Metastatic Lineage in Colorectal Cancer by Single Cell DNA Sequencing" in Spring 2016.
After his Ph.D., Dr. Leung completed an American Board of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ABMGG) Clinical Genetics Fellowship at the University of Chicago, where he learned to develop, perform, and interpret molecular assays relevant to the diagnosis and management of human genetic diseases. He currently serves as the Assistant Clinical Laboratory Director for the Center for Applied Genomics at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). In his role at CHOP, Marco is involved in high-complexity molecular testing, including carrier screening, clinical exome sequencing, and molecular assay development. His current research focuses on novel technological development which can be adapted into clinical testing.
Chunlei Jin, M.B.B.S., M.S., Ph.D.
Jean-Pierre Issa Laboratory - Biomedical Sciences Program
CPRIT Graduate Scholar 2010-2012
Ph.D. dissertation defended Fall 2012.
Current Position: Associate Medical Director at Jiangsu Hengrui Medicine Co., Ltd. since 2017.
Dr. Chunlei Jin earned his M.B.B.S. in Clinical Medicine and his M.S. in Pharmacology both from Zhejiang University School of Medicine in Hangzhou, China. He then served as Clinical Project Manager in the Department of Research & Development at Hangzhou Jiuyuan Gene Engineering Co., Ltd. for a few years before moving to the United States to pursue his Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences from the MD Anderson UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. He defended his Ph.D. dissertation titled, "TET1: A Unique DNA Demethylase for Maintenance of DNA Methylation Pattern in Fall 2012. He reflects on his participation in the CPRIT Graduate Scholar Program: "In the CPRIT program I had a solid scientific training in cancer research, which equipped me with a wide range of knowledge in cancer and important logical thinking ability. This prepared me well for industry, where I focus on designing phase I - III clinical trials of new anti-tumor drugs."
Dr. Jin currently serves as the Associate Medical Director at Jiangsu Hengrui Medicine Co., Ltd., in Shanghai, China. In his current role, he works on the clinical development of innovative anti-tumor therapies.