Graduate Fellowship Awardees

2021 Awardees

Charles Brobbey 

Charles Brobbey

HCC Abney Fellow

Project: Role of PRMT5 in ULK1-mediated Autophagy and Breast Cancer Therapy

Mentor: Wenjian Gan, Ph.D.

"Protein arginine methyltransferases (PRMTs) are a family of proteins that methylate arginine residues of diverse cellular substrates. PRMT5 is the predominant Type II PRMT whose overexpression negatively correlates with prognosis, survival, and severity of breast cancer, making it an important therapeutic target for breast cancer treatment. Despite the well-established anti-tumor effects of PRMT5 inhibitors, the exact mechanism of how PRMT5 inhibition suppresses cancer progression is largely unknown. This study will explore how PRMT5-mediated methylation of ULK1 suppresses autophagy and provide evidence to show that combining ULK1 and PRMT5 inhibitors will be a more potent breast cancer therapy than PRMT5 inhibitors alone."

Amanda Daulagala 

Amanda Daulagala

HCC Abney Fellow

Project: Interaction of the Extracellular Matrix with the Cell-Cell Junction Associated RNAi Machinery in Colon Cancer Epithelial Cells

Mentor: Antonis Kourtidis, Ph.D.

"Imagine trying to stay still on an expanding floor with your friends while holding hands. As the floor expands there would be more tension on the grip of the hands. If this is prolonged, then you lose your grip and start moving freely, just like cancer cells would do in the human body. Replace you and friends with epithelial cells in the colon, hands with cell-cell junctions, more specifically the Adherens Junctions, and the floor with the extracellular matrix (ECM). Fibrosis, a major precursor to colon cancer, introduces abnormal physical stress through extensive remodeling of the ECM, which is sensed by the Adherens Junctions, just like hands felt the tension while standing on the moving floor.

PLEKHA7 is a protein at the Adherens Junctions that helps maintain the epithelial integrity, or else the “grip,” between the cells. It also recruits a set of proteins that belong to a mechanism called RNA interference (RNAi) that regulates microRNA (miRNA) biogenesis and function. miRNAs control the overall expression of proteins and eventually cell behavior. Our project aims to examine how PLEKHA7 and its associated RNAi machinery respond to physical stresses by the ECM and whether this response, in turn, affects miRNAs, protein expression and pre-cancerous cell behavior."

Kareem Heslop 

Kareem Heslop

HCC Abney Fellow

Project: Targeting VDAC to Modulate Warburg Metabolism in Hepatocarcinoma

Mentor: Eduardo Maldonado, Ph.D., DVM

"We propose to design and validate compounds to increase mitochondrial metabolism and revert the pro-proliferative Warburg metabolism in cancer. This work aims to discover compounds that target the voltage dependent anion channel (VDAC). Located on the outer mitochondrial membrane, VDAC is responsible for the passage of respiratory substrates, ADP and PI, that fuel mitochondria. By targeting VDAC, we can control mitochondrial metabolism in cancer. Overall, this project is expected to lead to the development of new “metabolically” targeted chemotherapeutic agents to be used alone or in combination with conventional chemotherapy for different types of cancer."

Joseph Karam 

Joseph Karam

HCC Abney Fellow

Project: Elucidating the Mechanism of PCBP1 Regulated Transcription at Cancer Gene Promoters

Mentor: Philip H. Howe, Ph.D.

"Our lab studies the changes that allow cancer cells to spread, or metastasize. When cancer spreads, it becomes much more difficult to treat. We work together to make discoveries that will lead to better treatments. In my project, I’m studying how a protein involved in metastasis binds to structures in DNA to regulate the expression of cancer genes."

2020 Awardees

Stephanie Jones 

Stephanie Jones

HCC Abney Fellow

Project: Genetic Variants in Smoking Cessation and Relapse: A Longitudinal Study

Mentor: Bethany Wolf, Ph.D.

"Genetics play a role in smoking cessation. This project aims to identify genetic variations associated with smoking cessation and the degree of relapse throughout adulthood. This research will improve understanding of the role of genetics in cessation failure and relapse throughout adulthood, which could guide the development of precision medicine cessation intervention approaches for cancer prevention and control."

Julia Lefler 

Julia Lefler

HCC Abney Fellow

Project: The Role of Fibroblast Signal Transducer and Activator of Transcription 3 (STAT3) in Shaping the Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma (PDAC) Immune Microenvironment

Mentor: Michael Ostrowski, Ph.D.

"These studies highlight the importance of understanding how tumor cells communicate with their surrounding environment. With this strategy, we can find ways to block that communication to limit tumor growth. We hope to expand on our findings to ultimately discover new and improved strategies to treat PDAC."

Timothy Samec 

Timothy Samec

HCC LOWVELO Fellow

Project: Novel Tandem Peptide Targeted Delivery of Small interfering RNA (siRNA) for RNA interference (RNAi) Therapeutics in Ovarian Cancer Treatment

Mentor: Angela Alexander-Bryant, Ph.D.

"This work is focused on the development of an original peptide delivery system with the ability to selectively target ovarian cancer cells, avoid deterioration by natural pathways present within the cell, and effectively deliver therapeutic cargo to reduce expression of a gene responsible for ovarian cancer cell growth, proliferation, and invasion."

2019 Awardees

Ashley Howell 

Ashley Howell

HCC Abney Fellow

Project: Investigation into Factors that May Affect Response to Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors in Elderly Patients with Melanoma

Mentor: Kristin Wallace, Ph.D.

"Changes to the composition and function of the immune system occur naturally with age, which may affect an elderly patient's response to cancer immunotherapy. This research will utilize national data from the SEER cancer registry and the Medicare program to investigate the use of immune checkpoint inhibitors in elderly patients with advanced melanoma. Specifically, we will evaluate the impact of age and comorbidity burden on overall survival in older melanoma patients treated with checkpoint blockade therapy and determine whether the risk of experiencing immune-related adverse events increases with age."

Hannah Knochelmann 

Hannah Knochelmann

Project: Mechanisms of Enhanced Anti-Tumor Efficacy of Four-Day Expanded Th17 Cells for Adoptive Transfer

Mentor: Chrystal Paulos, Ph.D.

"Generating personalized T cell products for cancer immunotherapy can take several months and is extremely expensive, which limits availability of this therapy and excludes many patients with aggressive malignancies. We recently developed a method where therapeutic T cells can be generated in only four days and now seek to understand their improved antitumor properties. These studies implicate new approaches to streamline T cell production, making this therapy more affordable and available worldwide."

Connor West 

Connor West

HCC Abney Fellow

Project: Determination of N-linked Glycosylation Changes in Hepatocellular Carcinoma and the Associated Glycoproteins for Enhanced Biomarker Discovery and Therapeutic Targets

Mentor: Richard Drake, Ph.D.

"Our lab focuses primarily on sugar modifications to proteins known as glycans and how these glycans change with disease states. My research focuses on liver cancer, specifically hepatocellular carcinoma, and how these sugar structures change during disease progression. Previously, we have found that specific glycan changes occur more frequently and abundantly in cancerous tissue. From this, we hope to use these glycan structure changes and the proteins they are attached to as potential biomarkers for earlier detection of liver cancer, therefore improving survival rates and treatment options."

2018 Awardees

Bradley Krisanits 

Bradley Krisanits

HCC Abney Fellow

Project: Advanced Glycation End-Products: Lifestyle Contributions to Prostate Cancer Disparity and Intervention

Mentor: David Turner, Ph.D.

"The HCC fellowship will aid in the successful completion of a clinical trial investigating the benefits of lifestyle change on biomarkers of prostate cancer progression."

Tony Kwon 

Hyunwoo (Tony) Kwon

HCC Abney Fellow

Project: Investigation of IFNg-IDO1-Tryptophan Transport Axis as the Molecular Basis for Bladder Cancer Sex Bias

Mentor: Zihai Li, M.D., Ph.D.

"Males and females share robust differences in their susceptibility to various autoimmune and infectious diseases, emphasizing that sex is an important biological variable regulating the immune system. My research studies the potential implication of sex-based immunological differences on the pathogenesis of various malignancies."

Steven Schutt 

Steven Schutt

HCC Abney Fellow

Project: Fli-1: A Promising Therapeutic Target in Graft-versus-Host Disease and Leukemia

Mentor: Xue-Zhong Yu, M.D.

"The protein Friend leukemia virus integration 1 (Fli-1) is responsible for development of Ewing's Sarcoma and certain types of leukemia, while also being associated with systemic lupus (SLE) in humans. This association led us to test if targeting Fli-1 in pre-clinical animal models would be beneficial for graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), where we indeed found that targeting Fli-1 using a genetic approach was able to prevent GVHD development."

Aubrey Smith 

Aubrey Smith

HCC Abney Fellow

Project: Defining the Role of Toll-like Receptor Agonists in T Cell-based Immunotherapy

Mentor: Chrystal Paulos, Ph.D.

"We recently discovered that Toll-like receptor 9 agonist, called CpG-ODN, dramatically augments the anti-tumor activity of adoptively transferred CD8+ T cells. This grant seeks to uncover the mechanisms underlining the effectiveness of this novel therapy. Our findings have the potential to revolutionize various forms of T cell-based therapies for cancer patients."