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Meet the CBTP Trainees!

The Cancer Biology Training Program comprises trainees from all different career levels and research backgrounds ranging from cancer genetics and pathology to computational biology and electrical engineering. While the CBTP trainees come from different research backgrounds, CBTP trainees are united in their desire to understand cancer biology with the goal of advancing cancer therapy. Take a look at some of the trainees’ research projects and their motivation for joining this program!

Martin Alcaraz Jr., Postgraduate Research Associate

PI/Department: Shannon Whirledge and Pinar Kodaman, Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences
Research project: Leading a longitudinal pregnancy study defining the best practices for biospecimen collection and storage in order to best support various big data technologies, while identifying, collecting, and processing biospecimens at Yale New Haven Hospital for inclusion in the Yale University Reproductive Sciences Biobank.
Motivation for joining CBTP: I aspire to obtain a joint MD/PhD degree. My previous research experiences in academia have propelled my interest for translational and clinical cancer researcher and I know that through CBTP my passion will only solidify and the program will bring me closer to becoming a surgeon-scientist.Prior to joining Yale, I was atStanford University School of Medicine for two years in the Kuo Lab working on CNS angiogenesis/BBB formation in mouse models and learning about cancerous organoids and in industry at Genentech, Inc., where I worked in the ES Cell and CRISPR Lab streamlining workflow for mouse model creation from ES cells. When I began at Yale School of Medicine, I studied in the Muzumdar Lab at the Yale Cancer Biology Institute, and helped to identify synthetic lethal targets in KRAS mutant engineered cancer cell lines for PDAC and the epigenetic effects of cigarette smoke on LUAD progression using genetically engineered mouse models.
Favorite activities: Both of my parents are from Mexico so I have a strong connection to that part of my identity. Because of that, my favorite activity outside of the lab is cooking Mexican dishes or baking pan dulce. I especially love introducing my friends to authentic Mexican food.

Cory Brennick, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow

PI/Department: Lieping Chen, Immunobiology
Research project: My current research focuses on the tumor microenvironment and its suppressive abilities. We are investigating the molecules secreted from the tumor microenvironment that inhibit T cell infiltration.
Motivation for joining CBTP: My motivation to join the Cancer Biology Training Program stems from my drive to be a strong well-rounded cancer immunologist. I believe in order to be a great basic scientist, one needs to be fluent in clinical and translational science.
Favorite activities: Hockey.

Jordan Cardenas, PhD Candidate

PI/Department: Katerina Politi, Immunobiology
Clinical Mentor: Mario Strazzabosco
Research project: Investigating mechanisms of acquired resistance to immune checkpoint inhibitors in non-small cell lung cancer. Emphasizing investigation into additive mutations in proteasome components.
Favorite activities: Hiking.

Jasmine Caulfield, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow

PI/Department: Harriet Kluger, Medical Oncology
Research project: Developing novel regimens for cancer patients whose tumors are resistant to current immune therapies.
Motivation for joining CBTP: My background is in neuroscience, and by participating in the CBTP, I hope to gain a more formal introduction to the field of cancer biology to enhance my training as a first-year post-doc.
Favorite activities: Outside of the lab, I enjoy baking and going on runs with my dog.

Dorthy Fang, PhD Candidate

PI/Department: Sigrid Nachtergaele, Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology
Research project: I am studying the biology of RNA modifications, likely focusing on N1-methyladenosine (m1A). I am interested in the ways in which RNA modifications are regulated within the cell and their downstream effects on cellular processes.
Motivation for joining CBTP: I applied to CBTP because I think it is critical as a scientist to understand the connections between basic science and the clinic, and to be able to bridge these connections. I also wanted to gain a deeper understanding of cancer biology and its applications.
Favorite activities: Anything related to food - trying out new restaurants with friends, cooking, baking, apple picking, etc.

Aileen Fernandez, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow

PI/Department: David Rimm, Pathology
Research project: My current work focuses on identifying and developing biomarkers for different cancer treatments. I currently work with breast cancer, lung cancer, and gastric cancer.
Motivation for joining CBTP: I want to improve my understanding of translational research and hone my skills to maximize my productivity in the translational realm.
Favorite activities: Reading and dancing.

Xiangyu (Gigi) Ge, PhD Candidate

PI/Department: Mandar Muzumdar, Genetics
Research project: Dissecting differential signaling pathways among Kras variants by engineering proteins for light-inducible allosteric control, using genetic CRISPR screen to identify synthetic lethal candidates in Kras-knockout pancreatic cell lines, and discovering novel escaping mechanisms in Kras-driven cancers.
Motivation for joining CBTP: I want to get more clinical exposure about pancreatic cancer.
Favorite activities: Hiking, reading, watching movies, playing the piano.

Kasey Hancock, PhD Candidate

PI/Department: Todd Constable, Electrical Engineering
Research project: My lab is developing an open, silent tabletop MRI system which will increase the accessibility of MRI. Among other uses, we believe this technology could replace X-ray mammography as a higher resolution breast cancer screening mechanism and be used to monitor other tumors.
Motivation for joining CBTP: I am motivated to improve cancer detection technology in order to catch cancer earlier and maximize treatment options for patients and clinicians. I believe advancing my knowledge of cancer biology and the current clinical use of detection technology will aid me in this pursuit.
Favorite activities: Walking my two basset hounds at West Rock park.

Vanessa Kelley, PhD Candidate

PI/Department: Joseph Contessa, Pharmacology
Research project: Our lab uses CRISPR screens to uncover novel mechanisms of resistance to common cancer therapies. Specifically, I will use a kinome-wide CRISPR screen to elucidate mechanisms of resistance of Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma to radiation therapy and immunotherapy.
Motivation for joining CBTP: I applied to CBTP to learn more about the challenges encountered in the clinic so that I can better translate my laboratory work into real patient treatments.
Favorite activities: I enjoy reading, playing guitar, and spending time with friends.

Wes Lewis, PhD Candidate

PI/Department: Yuval Kluger/Smita Krishnaswamy/Mark Gerstein

Mei Lan Li, PhD Candidate

PI/Department: Kaelyn Sumigray, Genetics
Research project: I am interested in studying the mechanisms that drive the formation of intestinal polyposis, in which ectopic growth results in the lining of the intestine. I plan to study how polyp formation affects the functions and physical architecture of intestinal stem cell niches.
Motivation for joining CBTP: I applied to CBTP because it features cancer biology training and discussions in both basic science research and practical clinical issues. It offers me opportunities to interact with clinicians directly and engage in clinical diagnosis.
Favorite activities: Outside of the lab, I like to paint with acrylic and pastels.

Diana Martinez-Saucedo, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow

PI/Department: Luisa Escobar-Hoyos, Therapeutic Radiology
Research project: Understanding the role of a splicing factor in the development of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma.
Motivation for joining CBTP: I joined the program because it's a great quality training and opportunity to learn the background that I lack in cancer.
Favorite activities: Petting my cat and doing yoga.

Natasha Pinto Medici, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow

PI/Department: Luisa Escobar-Hoyos, Therapeutic Radiology
Research project: The goal of my project is to understand how aberrant alternative RNA splicing contributes to PDAC pathogenesis and impaired anti-tumor immune response, and determine its value as mechanistic-based therapies.
Motivation for joining CBTP: I applied to the program because the training is excellent and it will provide me with unique experiences, such as having a clinical mentor. Finally, because it will also provide me with the background I need for my own project.
Favorite activities: I love dancing, singing (mostly in the shower), going out to try new restaurants, traveling and painting.

Mamie Wang, PhD Candidate

PI/Department: Harriet Kluger/Steven Kleinstein, Pathology
Research project: I am interested in computational immunology and developing computational methods to solve interesting biological problems. Currently, I am working on a deep learning model to predict peptide-MHC binding affinity based on their sequences.
Motivation for joining CBTP: I decided to apply to CBTP to learn more about cancer biology and related clinical issues, which can help me gain insights into how my research can be relevant to the field.
Favorite activities: Baking and watercolor painting.