NCI Training Program in Translational Genomics and Precision Medicine Approaches in Cancer
The T32 in Translational Genomics and Precision Medicine in Cancer (TGP) training program was developed in response to a new revolution of Big Data and the need for scientists to be trained in the discovery, integration and interpretation of translational genomics for precision medicine. The training plan allows qualified predoctoral or postdoctoral candidates to be educated and trained in-depth and breadth in state-of-the-art areas of translational genomics and precision medicine related to cancer.
The goal is to educate and train the next generation of scientists to understand broadly their role in driving precision medicine through discovery science and development of novel genomic analytical tools necessary to power this application in the clinical setting. In addition to a mentored research experience by one of our outstanding training faculty, both Ph.D. candidates and postdoctoral fellows are expected to gain interdisciplinary training in core competency areas critical to the future of translational genomic science.
Postdoctoral positions in the Translational Genomics and Precision Medicine in Cancer (TGP) Training Program at MD Anderson are available for U.S. citizens or permanent residents only. Predoctoral positions are also available, no U.S. citizenship required.
Candidates for positions on the T32 must be currently working with or propose to work with T32 faculty mentors and interested in training related to competency areas of the TGP program. We highly encourage selection of clinical co-mentors for T32 fellows accepted into the program to ensure a translational research experience.
Predoctoral fellows who have completed their first year of graduate training and have passed oral candidacy are preferred however the T32 Program will also consider strong applicants in their first year of graduate training, no U.S. citizenship required.
Interested candidates should email their applications as a single pdf file with “2020 T32 TGP Application” denoted in the subject line. The application should include:
- Application form
- Applicant Statement of Interest in T32 Training (one page) describing research interests and how T32 training might benefit future career goals.
- Five-page research proposal on proposed research project with T32 faculty mentor. Research proposal should include: Abstract (including specific aims); Background and Significance; Preliminary Data; Research Plan
- Applicant Curriculum Vitae
- Three letters of recommendation, one of which should be from the mentor of the applicant.
- Mentor’s training plan (predoctoral candidates only; one page)
- Personal data sheet (optional)
Encouraging Diversity: Because the training programs are also committed to enhancing the diversity of scientists, individuals from diverse backgrounds (including individuals from racial and ethnic groups that are shown to be underrepresented in health-related sciences, individuals with disabilities and individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds) are particularly encouraged to apply.
Applications must be complete and finalized by the December 1, 2020 deadline. Corrections submitted after the deadline will not be accepted.
Send the application email to:
Education Program Coordinator
• Applicant Statement of Interest in T32 Training (1 page) describing research interests and how T32 training might benefit future career goals.
• 5 page research proposal on proposed research project with T32 faculty mentor. Research proposal should include: Abstract; Background and Significance; Preliminary Data; Research Plan
• Applicant Curriculum Vitae
• Three letters of recommendation
• Mentor’s training plan (predoctoral candidates only)( 1 page)
• Optional personal data sheet
Both graduate students and postdoctoral fellows will have a defined curriculum as well as may take electives offered within the GSBS and also through the TGP T32 program. We will train our students and postdoctoral fellows on an individual basis, taking into consideration their specific areas of interest within our core competency required areas.
Core Competencies for the program include a depth and breadth of knowledge in five areas:
- Translational cancer research, to gain exposure to mechanistic studies in translational research and their importance to the human organism;
- Precision medicine to gain experience in state-of-the-art ways to diagnose and target treatment of cancer patients based on genomic or immunogenetic profiles;
- Translational genetics and genomics, to gain competency in translational genomics needed for future understanding and implementation of cancer precision medicine;
- Bioinformatics, to learn how to read and interpret large omics datasets; and,
- Exposure to relevant tumor boards (monthly) and to industrial collaborations with academic faculty mentors on large scale genomic applications in cancer precision medicine.
Meet Our Fellows
Maria Castaneda, Ph.D.
Main focus: FOXC2, Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition, mitotic bookmarking
Maria Castaneda completed her Ph.D. in 2019 from The University of Texas at Dallas, in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
During her graduate studies, Castaneda worked on the inhibition of the epithelial-mesenchymal transition by targeting the transcription factor FOXC2. Castaneda has discovered the first direct small molecule inhibitor of FOXC2, MC-1-F2, also known as the only direct small molecule inhibitor of EMT regulating transcription factors. This work on FOXC2 inhibition has led to a patent on MC-1-F2 and a cover feature in ChemBioChem. Further work continues to be done on MC-1-F2 and its therapeutic potential. Currently, Castaneda works under the supervision of Dr. Mani in the Department of Translational Molecular Pathology. Her current interests continue to align with a deeper understanding of cancer pathology and the epithelial-mesenchymal transition. Castaneda will focus on further understanding the role of FOXC2 in cancer-stem cell generation and FOXC2’s role in mitotic bookmarking. These studies will aid in the development of therapies targeting cancer recurrence and metastasis. Along with Castaneda’s research interest are her passion for outreach. During her graduate studies Castaneda founded the Chemistry Graduate Student Association (CGSA) at the University of Texas at Dallas as well as founding the student chapter of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). Castaneda has dedicated her time and energy into improving the representation of minorities in STEM education. In recognition of Castaneda’s hard work she has been awarded the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and Eugene McDermott Fellowship during her graduate career. Fellowships that have allowed her to devote time to both research and outreach.
Rachel Dittmar, B.S.
Main focus: pancreatic cancer, extracellular vesicles, biomarkers
Rachel L. Dittmar, B.S. is a doctoral candidate and T32 pre-doctoral awardee at the MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Science (GSBS) completing her doctoral thesis research in Dr. Subrata Sen’s lab in the department of Translational Molecular Pathology. Dittmar’s research focuses on understanding how alterations in pancreatic cancer associated driver genes, including KRAS, GNAS, and TP53, affect extracellular vesicle content. The long term goal of this project is to use content ensconced in circulating extracellular vesicles to develop a body-fluid-based biomarker for early detection of pancreatic cancer and to discriminate which cystic pancreatic cancer precursor lesions will progress to pancreatic cancer. Dittmar, in collaboration with other members of the Sen lab, also plays a lead role in projects studying cell-free, circulating miRNAs, metabolites, and DNA as potential biomarkers for early detection of pancreatic cancer. Since graduating from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 2012, Dittmar has co-authored 13 peer reviewed publications, reviews, and book chapters. Additionally, since joining the GSBS in fall of 2015, Dittmar has been awarded the Sylvan Rodriguez Foundation Scholarship honoring George M. Stancel, the Marilyn and Frederick R. Lummis, Jr., M.D., Fellowship in the Biomedical Sciences, the Dr. John J. Kopchick Fellowship, and the Linda M. Wells GSBS Outreach Award. Outside of the lab, Dittmar enjoys giving back to her community as Vice President of the Outreach Program.
Main Focus: Characterizing the T-cell receptor (TCR) repertoires of Lynch Syndrome (LS) patients
Ana Bolivar completed her M.S. in Diagnostic Genetics from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center School of Health Professions and is currently enrolled in the Ph.D. program in Cancer Biology at the MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Science (GSBS) under the mentorship of Dr. Eduardo Vilar-Sanchez in the department of Clinical Cancer Prevention. Ana’s research focuses on characterizing the T-cell receptor (TCR) repertoires of Lynch Syndrome (LS) patients, the most common hereditary cancer syndrome, using highly innovative immunogenomics approaches. The long-term goal of her project is to identify TCR signatures predictive of the presence of cancer from the peripheral blood of these patients. Ana is also involved in a project cataloging and identifying the most frequently recurrent neoantigens present in LS precancers and tumors, with the purpose of developing novel immunoprevention strategies, involving an LS cancer vaccine. Since graduating with her Master’s degree, Ana has co-authored 2 peer-reviewed publications and published a first-author paper. She has given talks in different conferences and meetings that include the Cancer Genomics Consortium Meeting, where she was awarded the 1st place Trainee Award. Her long-term career is to work in the molecular diagnostics field and to help towards the advancement of early cancer detection technologies.
Jake Leighton, B.A., B.S.
Jake is a Ph.D. candidate and T32 pre-doctoral fellow in the Quantitative Sciences program at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS). He is currently working in the lab of Dr. Nicholas Navin in the Department of Genetics, where his doctoral research work focuses on understanding early cancer development by identifying aneuploid initiating mutations in triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) contributing to tumor evolution. By determining specific point mutations precipitating important genomic transformations underlying initiation in TNBC, his work can illuminate their contribution to important early cancer developmental events, thereby inspiring dynamic basic science research, functional validation studies, and translational investigations of potential therapeutic targets to further advance the vanguard treatment of breast cancer. While completing degrees in physics, biochemistry, and philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin, he worked with Dr. George Shubeita utilizing optical tweezers to examine dynein molecular motor motility and later studied the effect of Hippo pathway dysregulation on pancreatic cancer development with Dr. Pei Wang at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Since joining GSBS in the Fall of 2016, he has been active in GSBS mentorship, graduate program development, and successfully published an impactful first author paper. When not in the lab, he enjoys playing sports, performing music, and volunteering in local hospitals and schools.
Eugene Lurie, Ph.D.
Main Focus: Machine learning algorithms for early detection of pancreatic cancer; precision medicine
Eugene Lurie completed his Ph.D. in Genetics and Genomics in 2019 at
Baylor College of Medicine in the lab of Dr. Aleksandar Milosavljevic.
His thesis work focused on utilizing DNA methylation to footprint: 1.)
the regulatory effects of non-coding genetic variation and 2.)
cell-type specific signals in pancreatic cancer. The former project
identified thousands of non-coding variants that impacted the
surrounding epigenomic landscape in cis across a multitude of tissues
and resulted in a co-first author publication in Science, which was
awarded the Molecular and Human Genetics Department best student
publication of 2019 at Baylor College of Medicine. The latter project
utilized in silico deconvolution approaches to uncover cell-type
specific signals buried within bulk pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma
tissue datasets in order to study the biology of the cancer cell in
its native tumor microenvironment. During his graduate studies, Eugene
was awarded the John Trentin Scholarship Award for Outstanding
Academic performance, was a Dan L. Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center
Symposium poster winner, and was an invited speaker at both national
and international meetings. His current interests include applying
computational methods to aid in the improvement of early detection of
pancreatic cancer with the goal of identifying useful liquid
biomarkers and developing an accurate classifier by utilizing machine
learning methods for these purposes. His long-term career plan is to
serve as a bioinformatician in whichever capacity will allow him to
leverage his scientific training to alleviate the suffering of cancer
Justin Wong, Ph.D.
Main focus: Pancreatic cancer, pre-malignant lesions, biomarkers
Justin Wong completed his Ph.D. in 2018 at the MD Anderson Cancer
Center UT Health Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in the lab of
Dr. Ralf Krahe under the Human and Molecular Genetics program. His
thesis focused on understanding sarcomagenesis in the context of
Li-Fraumeni Syndrome (LFS) and Li-Fraumeni-like Syndrome (LFSL),
whether this be through acquired somatic changes (LFS) or novel
germline cancer-risk alleles (LFSL). This work led to the
identification of a novel, cancer predisposition gene, ARHGAP30, in
multiple LFSL families, and improved understanding of the genetic
underpinnings of p53-mediated sarcomagenesis in LFS-patients. During
his graduate training, Justin was a part of another T32 training
program, “Molecular Genetics of Cancer”. It is his long-term goal to
continue to understand the factors that influence cancer risk and
tumorigenesis, whether through germline predisposition, or other
molecular characteristics such as genetic, epigenetic, and
transcriptomic biomarkers to better stratify and improve clinical
care, for at-risk individuals.
Ann M. Killary, Ph.D.
Ignacio I. Wistuba, M.D.
Education Program Coordinator
Translational Molecular Pathology Department
2130 W. Holcombe Blvd.
Life Science Plaza
Houston, TX 77030