City of Hope's 2018 Graduate School Commencement

May 31, 2018 | by Dory Benford

Since the program began in 1994, City of Hope's Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences has been informing, supporting and encouraging some of the best scientific minds in the field. On June 8, yet another group of impressive individuals will join those ranks.
For this year's commencement, students and their laboratory mentors will be joined by keynote speaker, Joan A. Steitz, Ph.D., to celebrate the hard work and dedication they exhibited throughout their time at City of Hope. Steitz is the Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale University and an Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. 
His Excellency, Milan Panic, Prime Minister of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, will also be recognized for his contributions to City of Hope at the ceremony where he will receive an honorary degree of Doctor of Science.
Here is the 2018 graduating class, poised to become the future leaders in cancer research and treatment.
Kaniel Cassady of Chico, California, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in cellular and molecular biology from California State University Chico. Working under the direction of Defu Zeng, professor in the Diabetes & Metabolism Research Institute at City of Hope, and Arthur Riggs, Ph.D., the Samuel Rahbar Chair in Diabetes & Drug Discovery. Cassady studied the role of T cell co-inhibitory signaling pathways in the prevention of graft-versus-host disease, a life-threatening complication following bone marrow transplantation. He was the 2013 recipient of the Morgan and Helen Chu Fellowship and plans to continue his studies in the field of hematopoietic cell transplantation and immune tolerance.
Alissa Denise Clear grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, and earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Purdue University, where she studied biology and French. Working under the direction of Adam Bailis, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope, Clear studied the molecular mechanism of DNA repair to better understand tumorigenesis and potentially improve cancer therapy. During her studies, Clear received funding from the H.N. and Frances Berger Foundation and published one co-first author scientific paper. She has accepted a postdoctoral position at the Public Health Research Institute of Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, where she will study underlying pathogen and host factors contributing to the emergence of antifungal drug resistance in human fungal pathogens.
Kathleen Elizabeth Elison, who grew up in Virginia Beach, Virginia, earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from California State University San Bernardino. Under the direction of Jacob Berlin, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Molecular Medicine at Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope, Elison assisted in the development of a DNA-Free, DNA-Encoded Affinity Screening Platform. This screening platform allows for the rapid and relatively facile identification of small molecule ligands from within a large population of diverse molecules. The technology that was developed by Elison and others will be at the center of an upcoming biotech company that she plans to join, and where she will work on similar research projects.
Jessica Kurata of Pleasanton, California, earned a Bachelor of Science in joint chemistry and biology at Harvey Mudd College. While working in the laboratory of Ren-Jang Lin, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope, she studied the function of small regulatory molecules called miRNAs in cervical and stomach cancer. Kurata, a 2013 H.N. & Frances Berger Foundation Fellow, is the first author of a scientific paper presently in review and a co-author on several other papers. She plans to use her combination of computational and biological knowledge to pursue a career in bioinformatics.
Alice Ting Liu grew up in Tampa, Florida, and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in materials science and engineering from the University of Florida. Working in the laboratory of Jacob M. Berlin, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Molecular Medicine at Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope, she studied how the properties of nanoparticle aggregates affect their biological interactions in vitro and in vivo. Liu is the first/co-first author of two scientific papers, the second author of a third paper and was the recipient of the H.N. & Frances C. Berger Foundation Fellowship in 2014. She will now be doing research in an early-stage biotech company focusing on drug discovery.
Xuxiang Liu, who grew up in Guangdong, China, earned a Bachelor of Science in biosciences from Sun Yat-sen University in China. In the laboratories of Shizhen Emily Wang, Ph.D., a former City of Hope faculty member in the Department of Cancer Biology and a current faculty member at University of California San Diego, and John Chan, M.D., the Dr. Norman & Melinda Payson Professor in Hematologic Cancers at City of Hope, Liu studied the mechanism of breast cancer bone metastasis. The first author of a scientific paper presently in review, he was the recipient of funding from the H.N. & Frances C. Berger Foundation Fellowship.
Sophia Allaf Shahin began her studies at Azusa Pacific University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree. Her research interests took her to both City of Hope and Stanford University during her undergraduate career, working in cancer biology labs searching for mechanistic pathways of the disease. Shahin continued her education at University of Southern California, earning a Master of Science in experimental and molecular pathology before coming to City of Hope in 2014 to pursue her Ph.D. under the mentorship of Carlotta Glackin, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Developmental and Stem Cell Biology. Shahin's Ph.D. thesis achievements include four first-author publications and several second-author publications. Her thesis work produced a novel mRNA inhibitor against TWIST (siTWIST) delivered by mesoporous silica nanoparticle with hyaluronic acid (MSN-HA) targeting cancer stem cells, thereby reversing EMT-mediated chemoresistance in breast and ovarian cancer. The therapeutic product, MSN-HA-siTWIST, has shown a profound effect in animals and is currently being considered for human clinical trials. 
Kenneth Stapleton of Laguna Hills, California, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in human biology from the University of California San Diego. At City of Hope, he worked under the direction of Rama Natarajan, Ph.D., the National Business Products Industry Professor in Diabetes Research. Stapleton studied the role of long noncoding RNAs in regulating macrophage activation during obesity and prediabetes. He is the first author of one scientific paper and co-author of several others. 
Steven J. Tobin, of Estell Manor, New Jersey, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from the York College of Pennsylvania. He continued his education at University of Hawaii at Manoa in physical chemistry before joining the graduate program at City of Hope. Working in the lab of Tijana Jovanović-Talisman, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Medicine at Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope, Tobin leveraged quantitative super-resolution microscopy techniques to investigate biological systems at the single molecule level. Specifically, he studied the molecular signatures of opioid receptors in response to ethanol and co-developed a new approach for assessing HER2 nano-organization in breast cancer. His findings lead to one first author and one co-author publication during his graduate studies. Two additional manuscripts are currently under review and two are in preparation. Tobin plans to pursue a career in space science.     
Jacob R. Tremblay of Poway, California, earned a Bachelor of Science in cell and molecular biology from Point Loma Nazarene University. Working under the direction of Teresa Ku, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Translational Research and Cellular Therapeutics, Tremblay pursued his Ph.D. while studying the signaling mechanisms necessary for adult pancreatic progenitor cell self-renewal. Tremblay is the first author of one scientific paper in review, one methods paper, a co-author on three other papers, and was the 2016 recipient of the Dr. Norman and Melinda Payson Graduate Student Fellowship.
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