11 inspiring grads to receive doctoral degrees at June 10 commencement

June 7, 2016 | by City of Hope

Years of intensive study and training will bear fruit as 11 students from the Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences at City of Hope receive their Doctor of Philosophy degrees from their laboratory mentors on June 10.

The event, to be held in the Rose Garden of the Duarte, California, campus, will be the 18th commencement ceremony since the graduate school first opened to students in 1994.

“We are extremely proud of our graduates, whose achievements represent an incredible amount of hard work and perseverance,” said Adam Bailis, Ph.D., the graduate school’s associate dean of professional development.

“The graduate education at City of Hope is a crucible, a period during which our students try to crack very difficult problems,” Bailis said. “The work they do requires them to be patient, persistent and creative over a long period of time.”

For Cecilia Lee Choy of Upland, California, the road to a Ph.D. began at UCLA, where she studied microbiology and minored in political science. She then earned a master’s degree in natural sciences at SUNY Buffalo.

Under the direction of Rahul Jandial, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the Division of Neurosurgery at City of Hope, Choy pursued her PhD. Her studies centered on metastatic breast cancer cells and their relationship to the brain microenvironment. 

Sean Michael Howard, who grew up in Boise, Idaho, earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Idaho, where he studied genetic diversity of wolves.

Working in the lab of Jeremy Stark, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Cancer Genetics and Epigenetics at City of Hope, Howard studied the regulation of repair mechanisms of chromosomes in mammals. 

The first author of one scientific paper and co-author of another during his work with Stark, Howard is the recipient of a long-term fellowship from the European Molecular Biology Organization. His research at the University of Zurich will focus on developing biochemical assays to determine the activity of DNA repair factors on different DNA substrates.

Hubert Li of Arcadia, California, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in bioengineering from the University of California, San Diego. While working under the direction of Nagarajan Vaidehi, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Molecular Immunology at City of Hope, Li studied computational methods to aid in the development of drugs to inhibit protein-to-protein interactions. Li is the first author of one scientific paper and a co-author on several others. His future work will focus on new therapeutics in the treatment of disease.

Jodi Lehiwa Kazuyo Murakami of Honolulu, Hawaii, began her studies at the University of Hawaii where she earned a Bachelor of Science in microbiology. Working in the laboratory of Ching-Cheng Chen, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Division of Hematopoietic Stem Cell and Leukemia Research at City of Hope, Murakami studied the regulation of hematopoietic stem cell trafficking and maintenance.

Murakami, the 2010 Morgan and Helen Chu Graduate Student Fellowship recipient, whose work was supported by a three-year fellowship from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health, is first author on one scientific paper and the author of one review article. She will now work at Kite Pharma in Santa Monica, California, where her work will focus on cancer immunology.

Karineh Petrossian earned a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science degree at California State University, Northridge, where she studied molecular biology. Under the guidance of Shiuan Chen, PhD, chairman of the Department of Cancer Biology at City of Hope, Petrossian’s focus was the behavior of estrogen receptors in response to certain cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors in breast cancer. She has submitted a manuscript on her findings for publication.

“The experiences here have taught me not only about research but also about how I handle failure, stress and how I solve problems in stressful situations,” Petrossian said of her studies at City of Hope. She plans to pursue a professional career in clinical research and would like to work as part of a regulatory compliance team.

Mike Alan Reid of Ann Arbor, Michigan, earned a Bachelor of Science in neuroscience from the University of Michigan. Working under the direction of Mei Kong, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Cancer Biology at City of Hope, Reid studied signal transduction and cancer metabolism. He was the 2013 Ralph M. Parsons Foundation Scholar and is considering metabolomics and metabolic controlled epigenetics as his next area of study.

Sangeetha Satheesan moved to the U.S. from Cochin, India, where she had earned both Master of Science and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Kerala Agricultural University, India. In the laboratories of John J. Rossi, Ph.D., the Helen & Morgan Chu Dean's Chair of the Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences, and Richard Ermel, D.V.M., Ph.D., director and professor in the Division of Comparative Medicine at City of Hope, Satheesan studied the use of humanized mice in the evaluation of HIV persistence and evaluation.

She is the first author of one scientific paper and second author on another. Her future plans include work that merges her veterinary skills with her scientific expertise in the field of biomedical research.

Lindsey Michelle Skrdlant of Doniphan, Nebraska, earned a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. While working in the laboratory of Ren-Jang Lin, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at City of Hope, she studied mutations common in patients with certain forms of leukemia.

Skrdlant, the 2013 Dr. Norman and Melinda Payson Graduate School Fellow, has published a book chapter, and is the first author of a scientific paper presently in review. She will now work as a scientist in process development and manufacturing in the newly formed Laboratory for Cell & Gene Medicine led by Dave DiGiusto, Ph.D., at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Kandis Marie Stubblefield of Berkeley, California, began her studies with a Bachelor of Science degree from Howard University. Under the direction of John Shively, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Immunology at City of Hope, Stubblefield studied signaling pathways in certain breast cancer cells. She now looks forward to opportunities in business development and technology licensing.

Ben Yi Tew, born in Singapore and raised in Hong Kong, earned a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry from Imperial College London, followed by graduate work in biotechnology at Columbia University. Under the direction of Jeremy Jones, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Cancer Biology at City of Hope, he studied how the risk of prostate cancer is reduced by certain mechanisms found in the anticoagulant drug, Warfarin.

Tew, the first author on two scientific papers, is the recipient of funding from the H.N. & Frances C. Berger Foundation Fellowship, and received the 2014 Dr. Norman and Melinda Payson Graduate School Fellowship.

Desiree Faye Van Haute of Atlanta earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biomedical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Working in the laboratory of Jacob M. Berlin, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Medicine at City of Hope, she studied the biological applications of gold nanoparticle aggregates.

The first author of a scientific paper, Haute was awarded the Helen and Morgan Chu Graduate Student Fellowship in 2012, and received the Dr. Norman and Melinda Payson Graduate School Fellowship in 2015. Van Haute is studying the effect of the nanoparticle’s surface coverage on cellular uptake in vitro, and looks forward to future research opportunities.

To all of the graduates, congratulations! To learn more about City of Hope’s  Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences, visit the program webpage.

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