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City of Hope introduces newest graduates

This year, the Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences graduation was supposed to be held Friday, June 5, 2020. Due to COVID-19, it was cancelled and students will be invited back to participate in the 2021 ceremony which will be held on June 11, 2021 . Due to COVID-19, and students having to be away from labs during the shelter in place orders, the graduation deadline was extended to the end of August.  Please congratulate the 2020 graduating class.

Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Sciences (Ph.D.) Students

Vishnu Amaram from Kurnool, India, came to City of Hope in 2014 with a master's in medical biochemistry to pursue his Ph.D. Working under the mentorship of Rama Natarajan, Ph.D., professor and chair of Department of Diabetes Complications & Metabolism and the National Business Products industry Professor in Diabetes Research at City of Hope, Amaram studied the role of a novel long noncoding RNA Alivec in Angiotensin-II mediated vascular dysfunction. He was a recipient of a prestigious predoctoral fellowship from the American Heart Association for his research toward understanding cardiovascular disease mechanisms. He is author of four publications from the research in Dr. Natarajan’s lab and more research is to be published. He plans to pursue postdoctoral training in clinical pathology to develop and validate chemistry- and immunoassay-based methods for disease diagnoses including for COVID-19. 
Alexandra K. Ciminera, of Thousand Oaks, California, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry from University of California Los Angeles. Under the direction of John Termini, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Molecular Medicine, Ciminera studied the impact of hyperglycemia on DNA damage and repair, looking for mechanisms to reduce cancer risk in diabetic individuals. She was a recipient of the H. N. & Frances C. Berger Foundation Fellowship in 2015 and the Norman and Melinda Payson Graduate Student Fellowship in 2018. She plans to pursue a research career in the biotechnology industry.
Yvonne Rosales Cornejo grew up in Fontana, California, and earned a BS in Animal Science/Pre-Vet and a minor in microbiology from Cal Poly Pomona and a DVM from Western University of Health Science, College of Veterinary Medicine, Pomona. Working in the laboratory of Jacob M. Berlin, Ph.D., she studied the use of polymeric nanoparticles and their role in drug delivery. She then joined the laboratory of Karen S. Aboody, MD where she did work on the use of neural stem cells as a delivery vehicle for oncolytic viruses in the treatment of ovarian cancer. Along with the PhD training, she also completed a laboratory animal medicine residency under the direction of Richard W. Ermel, DVM, PhD. She has several publications including 2 second author publications. She is now working at a CRO in West Sacramento as a Laboratory Animal Veterinarian. 
Carlos Mendez-Dorantes grew up in Southeast Los Angeles, and completed a bachelor’s degree from Bennington College. Working under the guidance of Jeremy Stark, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Cancer Genetics and Epigenetics at City of Hope, Mendez-Dorantes investigated the mechanisms of chromosomal deletion rearrangements mediated by repetitive DNA elements, which can cause genetic abnormalities associated with human diseases such as cancers. His dissertation work has led to two first-author publications and his other scientific contributions during graduate school led to an additional four co-authored research publications. During graduate school, Mendez-Dorantes was supported by a Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship, which is administered by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. He will begin a postdoctoral position in the lab of Kathleen Burns, M.D., Ph.D., at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Harvard Medical School.
Karla Merz was born in Beirut, Lebanon and raised in the Kingdom of Bahrain; Karla joined our program by way of Baylor college of Medicine, where she worked as a research assistant after earning her Bachelor degree in Human Genetics from the University College of London (UCL). Under the mentorship of Dr. Debbie C. Thurmond,  Chair of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology, Karla developed a paradigm to reverse peripheral insulin resistance and identified the mechanism by which the protein involved- Syntaxin 4, is capable of doing do. Her paradigm is now being used by colleagues to assess other potential therapeutics of Type 2 Diabetes.  Karla, a H.N. and Frances Berger Foundation and the Helen and Morgan Chu fellow, has one accepted first author publication and is the first author of a scientific paper presently in review at Nature Communication. In addition, she is a co-author on several other papers. 
Megan Minnix grew up in Dallas, Texas, and earned a Bachelor of Science at University of Texas Austin, where she studied biochemistry. Working in the laboratory of John Shively, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Molecular Imaging & Therapy at City of Hope, Minnix developed multiple theranostic agents for cancer diagnostics and therapy, focusing on ovarian, multiple myeloma and prostate cancers. She studied both antibody drug conjugates and radioimmunotherapy in the treatment of cancer.  During her studies, Minnix received funding from the H.N. and Frances Berger Foundation and an RO1 grant. Her thesis led to two first author scientific papers, with an additional co-first author paper currently in review, and she is listed as an author on several other scientific papers.
Anthony K. Park earned his Bachelor of Science degree in biology from University of California San Diego. He completed his graduate education in the laboratories of Stephen J. Forman, M.D., professor in the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, and Yuman Fong, M.D., professor in the Department of Surgery and the Sangiacomo Family Chair in Surgical Oncology at City of Hope, with guidance from assistant professor Saul Priceman, Ph.D. Park’s dissertation work focused on the combination immunotherapy using oncolytic virus and CAR T cells for the treatment of solid tumors. During Park’s graduate studies, he was the first author of a scientific paper, “Effective Combination Immunotherapy using Oncolytic Viruses to Deliver CAR Targets to Solid Tumors” in Science Translational Medicine and co-author on seven other publications. He plans to pursue a career in translational immunotherapy and hopes to move this novel immunotherapy combination into a clinical trial to improve the lives of patients with solid tumors.
Ryan Setten is a native of Orange County, California. He received his B.S. in biochemistry and cell biology from University of California San Diego prior to attending the Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences. Setten performed his doctoral work under the mentorship of John J. Rossi, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and the Lidow Family Research Chair. His work established a positive regulatory role for an enhancer-associated long noncoding RNA (elncRNA) on the gene that encodes for the transcription factor CEBPA. This work has led to one first-author research publication (in review). Additionally, he is the first-author of two review articles and a co-author on two research articles. Setten is planning to accept a postdoctoral position at UC San Diego this fall.
Dongrui Wang grew up in Hangzhou, China, and received his B.S. in life sciences from Fudan University. He completed his graduate research at the T Cell Therapeutics Research Laboratory led by professors Stephen J. Forman, M.D. and Christine Brown, Ph.D., The Heritage Provider Network Professor in Immunotherapy, both in the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation. Wang’s work includes preclinical research optimizing chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy for the treatment of brain tumors, which has led to four first-author and several co-author publications. Wang is also involved in the clinical development using novel CAR T cells to treat patients with malignant gliomas. Wang received the 2014 H.N. & Frances Berger Foundation Fellowship and is currently supported by the F99-K00 Fellowship from the National Cancer Institute. He plans to use his training in T cell engineering and tumor immunology to pursue a career in translational research with an immunotherapy focus.
Yijia Zhang was born and raised in Yueyang, Hunan province of China. She earned her B.S. degree in pharmacy from Sichuan University, and continued the journey as a Ph.D. student at City of Hope. She worked under the supervision of Jacob Berlin, Ph.D., associate professor of the Department of Molecular Medicine at Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope, for her thesis project, and then she worked under Timothy Synold Pharm.D., professor and director of the Division of Molecular Pharmacology, to finish her thesis. Zhang is the first/co-first author of two scientific publications and was the recipient of the H.N. & Frances C. Berger Foundation Fellowship in 2016. She investigated the mechanism of nanoparticle accumulation in the liver at suborgan and cellular levels, and developed a new method to synthesize gold nanoparticle capsules – a biocompatible nanomaterial.
Other students who graduated this year with a Doctor in Philosophy include:
Emilee Bargoma
Catherine Elix
Manbir Sandhu

Master of Biological Science

Christiana Crook grew up in El Cajon, California, and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Point Loma Nazarene University. In the laboratory of Teresa Ku, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Translational Research and Cellular Therapeutics, she studied the gene expression profiles of murine and human pancreatic progenitor cells. She received the H.N. and Frances Berger Foundation Fellowship in 2017. Crook published three articles describing various aspects of graduate student and research life, one of which was published on the Nature Career Column. She is a co-author on one scientific paper.
Renee Estephan
Veronica Verplancken

Master of Science in Translational Medicine

Gubidxa Gutierrez Seymour
Eemon Tizpa