Early Career Investigators

Early Career Investigators

Rebecca C. Arend, MD

Assistant Professor, Gynecologic Oncology, UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center

Education: MD, Albert Einstein, New York, NY
OBGYN residency: Columbia Presbyterian, New York, NY
Gynecologic oncology fellowship: University of Alabama, Birmingham, AL

More information: https://providerdirectory.uabmedicine.org/provider/Rebecca++Arend/573564

Research Description

The overarching goals of my research are to understand tumor immune response to alterations in specific molecular pathways both in the tumor and in the tumor microenvironment. My basic and clinical research interests are focused on development of novel combination therapeutic approaches using targeted therapy, immunotherapy, and chemotherapy for treatment of patients with ovarian cancer. Specifically, I’m focusing on overcoming immune evasion by targeting the WNT pathway and ways to prime the immune systemic to change a “cold” tumor into a “hot” tumor so that they are more responsive to immunotherapy. Using syngeneic ovarian cancer mouse models, I am exploring sequencing and timing of therapy and investigating the specific effects on the microenvironment and specific subsets of immune cells. In addition, I am using human samples and genomics to better understand the relationship between Tumor Infiltrating Lymphocytes (TILs) to T regulatory cell ratios and gene expression in Homologous Recombination Deficiency and other conical cancer pathways.

Katherine Chiappinelli, PhD

Assistant Professor of Microbiology, Immunology, and Tropical Medicine, George Washington University School of Medicine 

Education: PhD, Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine; Postdoctoral fellowship, Johns Hopkins University

More information: https://smhs.gwu.edu/chiappinelli-lab/  


Research Description

My research focuses on how epigenetic therapies can be used against cancers, specifically in the context of arming the host immune system to fight cancer cells. We study the epigenetic changes in cancer and how epigenetic drugs can reverse these, specifically focusing on noncoding regions of the genome and the tumor cell immune response.

Salvatore Condello, PhD

Assistant Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, IN

Education: Ph.D., Cellular and Molecular Biology, University of Messina, Italy
Postdoc: Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, IN

More information: https://medicine.iu.edu/departments/obgyn/faculty/6232/condello-salvatore/

Research Description

My ongoing research aims at understanding the intersection between tissue transglutaminase, a multifunctional protein highly expressed in ovarian tumors, and the oncogenic Wnt/beta-catenin pathway in promoting the cancer stem cell phenotype, which has been associated with the clinically relevant problem of platinum resistance in ovarian cancer. My research program interrogates several ovarian cancer cell lines, primary cells, cancer stem-like cells, and animal models to address the importance of various signaling pathways and metabolic pattern alterations in this inherently heterogeneous disease with the ultimate goal to find new functional target genes and test novel therapeutics.

Marion Curtis, PhD

Assistant Professor of Immunology, Departments of Immunology and Cancer Biology, College of Medicine and Science, Mayo Clinic

Education: Ph.D., Cancer Biology, Biological Sciences Division, University of Chicago

Postdoctoral Training: Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Chicago

More information:

Research Description:

The long term goal of our lab is to improve the understanding of the relationship between ovarian cancer and the immune system, which will enable the development of new therapies to improve outcomes for women with this deadly disease. Our current research seeks to exploit the DNA damage repair deficiencies present in ovarian tumors in order to activate an effective anti-tumor immune response. We use a combination of cellular and mouse models of ovarian cancer, as well as, a large biobank of primary human samples to reach our goal. Our work is anticipated to have an enormous impact for women battling ovarian cancer, which currently lack truly effective treatment options following disease recurrence.

Alexandre Gaspar-Maia, PhD

Assistant Professor of Pharmacology, Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, Mayo Clinic

Education: PhD, University of California San Francisco/ Universidade de Coimbra (Portugal); Postdoctoral fellowship, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai NY

More information:

My group has been focusing on various aspects of transcription and enhancer regulation with implications in cellular heterogeneity, in particular in cancer stem cell states that lead to drug resistance. The goal is to use epigenomic profiling to define transcriptional dependencies and better understand cancer programs associated with malignancy, metastasis and drug sensitivity. To achieve this goal we use 3 complementary avenues: 1) Technology development: by adapting the most recent advances in sequencing technologies to a variety of model systems (3D organoids, PDXs and liquid biopsy) we aim to address tumor heterogeneity and epigenomic profiling in small populations of cells; 2) Bioinformatic analysis: with a special interest in incorporating different sequencing platforms to identify epigenomic patterns, we focus on extracting the most information from RNA-seq, HiChIP, HiC, ATAC-seq and single cell ATAC-seq/RNA-seq data. 3) Mechanistic Studies: using CRISPR/Cas9 based technologies and co-culturing systems to address cellular heterogeneity, we aim to target novel transcription factor candidates and non-coding elements to functionally validate their roles in cancer stem cell states. 

Sophia HL George, PhD

Assistant Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Division of Gynecologic Oncology, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami

Education: PhD, Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Postdoc: Princess Margaret Cancer Center, Ontario, Canada and Duke University, Durham, NC

More information: https://umiamihealth.org/sylvester-comprehensive-cancer-center/research/faculty/sophia-george-phd

Research Description

The George lab studies Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer syndrome, with the goal of understanding the effects of inherited genetic mutations on the fallopian tube epithelia and their involvement in the development of high-grade serous ovarian cancer. We hope to characterize the functional interplay between DNA damage response genes and antioxidant systems in early events in the fallopian tube epithelia as it is important to both prevention and chemotherapy resistance. Understanding the mechanisms that preneoplastic fallopian tube epithelia and ovarian cancer cells employ to circumvent oxidative stress and drive tumorigenesis will improve our ability to prevent and supplement treatment modalities.

Melissa A. Merritt, PhD

Senior Research Fellow, The Daffodil Centre
Stream Co-Leader, Ovarian Cancer
Faculty of Medicine and Health, The University of Sydney

Education: PhD, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Postdoctoral fellowships: Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA; Imperial College London, United Kingdom

More information:

Research Description:

My research program integrates molecular epidemiology, biomarkers for disease risk and progression, and disparities research using data from epidemiological cohort studies. My long term goal is to assist to develop better strategies for ovarian cancer prevention and to identify targets for pharmacologic and lifestyle interventions to improve outcomes for ovarian cancer patients. Using the exemplary resources available in the Ovarian Cancer Cohort Consortium (OC3), one of my specific goals is to study how pre-diagnosis and post-diagnosis aspirin and non-aspirin non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) use may influence survival among ovarian cancer patients in the context of patient characteristics and tumor immune marker profiles.

Naoko Sasamoto, MD, MPH

Instructor, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology

Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School

Education: MD, Osaka University, Osaka, Japan

Postdoctoral Training: Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, MA

More information: https://www.dfhcc.harvard.edu/insider/member-detail/member/naoko-sasamoto-md-mph/

My research interest focuses on discovery of early detection biomarkers to improve clinical outcomes of women with ovarian cancer by detecting ovarian cancer at earlier stages and identifying novel biologic pathways related to early stage disease and disease progression which could inform development of novel prevention strategies or therapeutics. The primary objective of my current research is to discover novel biomarkers for early detection of ovarian cancer using a unique study with blood samples drawn one to seven years prior to diagnosis of late stage ovarian cancer and apply the cutting-edge technology which can simultaneously measure more than a thousand proteins using small amount of blood. Results from this study will lead to discovery of novel ovarian cancer screening biomarkers targeted to women with average risk, which will have great impact on improving ovarian cancer survival.

Jogender Tushir-Singh, PhD

Associate Professor of Medical Microbiology and Immunology at the University of California, Davis

Education: Ph.D.  Cell and Molecular Biology, University Notre Dame, Notre Dame IN
Post Doctoral Studies: University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester MA

More information: https://health.ucdavis.edu/medmicro/Faculty_MR/Tushir-Singh/index.html/

Research Description

I am a rare early stage academic investigator who knows what it takes to translate research into the clinic due to both basic and industrial training. The overarching goals of my research are to investigate molecular mechanism of ovarian cancer and rationally apply antibody engineering based strategies for therapeutic targeting. We are particularly interested in dual-specificity antibodies, antibody conjugates and chimeric receptors. Current projects in my laboratory are focused on Bispecific Anchored Cytotoxic Activator strategy and CAR-NK cells against ovarian cancer overexpressed receptors. We currently focus on characterizing, comparing and combining both immune-dependent (Cancer Immunotherapy) and immune-independent strategies for effective ovarian cancer targeting. Additional projects are planned towards combinatorial ways to overcome clinical resistance to ovarian cancer therapies.

Oladapo Yeku, MD, PhD

Instructor, Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Clinical Assistant Attending, Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital

Education: MD, PhD, Stony Brook University School of Medicine

Medical Oncology Fellowship, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

More information: https://www.massgeneral.org/cancer-center/doctors/20425/Oladapo-Yeku

Research Description

I am characterizing the suppressive tumor microenvironment and evaluating strategies to improve the efficacy of novel immunotherapeutic approaches for the management of gynecologic malignancies. This includes immune checkpoint inhibitors, antibody-drug conjugates, bispecific T-cell engager therapy, and adoptive cellular therapy, including CAR-T cells.

Rachel I. Vogel, PhD

Assistant Professor, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Women's Health, Medical School
University of Minnesota

Education: M.S.: Biostatistics and Ph.D.,  Epidemiology. University of Minnesota School of Public Health

More information: https://med.umn.edu/bio/obgyn-faculty/rachel-vogel

Research Description

My research focuses on cancer survivors with the end goal of maximizing survivors' quality of life and outcomes.  As the number of cancer survivors increases, the long-term effects of the disease and treatment have become a substantial public health concern. The goal of this funded research is to determine whether CMV (cytomegalovirus) reactivation in the presence of high inflammation contributes to patient-reported fatigue and negatively affects cancer prognosis among women with ovarian cancer.