On this Women's Equality Day, City of Hope celebrates its female leaders in science and medicine, including a trailblazer in CAR T cell therapy, a biophysicist who tackles cancer using math, an ingenious endocrinology researcher untangling the web that connects cancer and diabetes, and an oncology nurse who has revolutionized end-of-life care.
Christine Brown, Ph.D.
Christine Brown, Ph.D., is a faculty member in the departments of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation and Immuno-Oncology who conducts groundbreaking research in immunotherapy, particularly CAR T cell therapy. As deputy director of the T Cell Therapeutics Research Laboratory, Brown and The Heritage Provider Network Professor in Immunotherapy, Brown provides scientific oversight for the preclinical research program, as well as the ongoing clinical trial program focused on the development of CAR-engineered T cells for the treatment of blood cancers and solid tumors. Brown’s personal research efforts are focused on developing and refining redirected CAR T cells for the treatment of malignant brain tumors, particularly hard-to-treat glioblastoma. Last year, she helped lead a team that developed and tested the first CAR T cell therapy using chlorotoxin, a component of scorpion venom, to direct T cells to target brain tumor cells. The promising therapy was quickly licensed.
Nagarajan Vaidehi, Ph.D.
Nagarajan Vaidehi, Ph.D., is leading the exploration of a new frontier in cancer care, one that relies on mathematicians, engineers, physicists and artificial intelligence experts. As professor and chair of the Department of Computational and Quantitative Medicine within Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope, she is an internationally recognized biophysicist who also oversees the Computational Therapeutics Core.
Vaidehi received her Ph.D. in quantum chemistry from the Indian Institute of Technology in India. She joined City of Hope in 2006 as a professor and has since advanced the use of computational methods to meet the challenges of designing therapeutics. By analyzing big data from a vast number of patients, along with medical and genomic data from an individual patient, she has shown that we can predict how a type of therapy will affect that patient’s outcome, helping doctors make more informed decisions about the right course of treatment as well as helping to develop novel therapeutics. For example, thanks to a study published last year in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Boehringer Ingelheim are now creating a new generation of medications that will greatly reduce the side effects of opiates and medications for high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and many other diseases.
Betty Ferrell, Ph.D., M.S.N., C.H.P.N.
Betty Ferrell, Ph.D., M.S.N., C.H.P.N., last year joined the National Academy of Medicine, one of the highest honors in health and medicine. The academy recognized her for her pioneering work in palliative and end-of-life care. It is one of many accomplishments and accolades she has received over the years, the last 30 of them spent at City of Hope, where she is currently the director of the Division of Nursing Research and Education. Beginning her career as an oncology nurse, Ferrell found her calling 42 years ago. Since then, she has established herself as a world-renowned expert on palliative and hospice care, developing national guidelines around palliative and end-of-life care. Drafted 20 years ago, her book, “Clinical Practice Guidelines for Quality Palliative Care,” recently published a fourth edition. It is the industry standard used by programs throughout the country.
In 2000, Ferrell and Rose Virani, M.H.A., O.C.N., R.N., created the End of Life Nursing Education Consortium. To date, the program has trained more than 1 million health care professionals in all 50 states and 100 countries on how to improve the quality of end-of-life care. The ELNEC Project pivoted quickly to meet the educational needs of nurses and nurse educators in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, moving much of the curriculum online. As nurses caring for patients with Covid faced critical needs for additional training in symptom management, communication skills, family support and bereavement care as well as self-care, the program moved swiftly to provide this education.
Yuan Yuan, M.D., Ph.D.
Yuan Yuan, M.D., Ph.D., attacks breast cancer from as many angles as she can think up. An associate clinical professor specializing in breast oncology in the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research, Yuan is board certified in internal medicine, hematology and oncology. Her clinical research interests center on novel therapeutics for metastatic triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive and challenging form of the disease.
With vast experience in preclinical, translational and clinical application of novel combination therapies, Yuan is currently leading a Phase 1 trial testing a combination of chemotherapy and an immunotherapy for triple-negative breast cancer. In addition, she is currently leading multiple other clinical trials for the disease, including testing targeted therapies such as immune checkpoint inhibitors, androgen receptor targeted therapy and PIK3CA pathway inhibition. She was awarded a STOP CANCER Career Development Award supporting translational research in triple-negative breast cancer tumor evolution and a National Institutes of Health grant studying biomarkers predicting chemotherapy toxicity in women with breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy.
Debbie Thurmond, Ph.D.
Debbie Thurmond, Ph.D., the Ruth B. & Robert K. Lanman Chair in Gene Regulation & Drug DIscovery Resesarch, was recently named director of the Arthur Riggs Diabetes & Metabolism Research Institute. A renowned research scientist, professor and the Department of Molecular & Cellular Endocrinology, Thurmond and her team lead efforts to identify cellular and molecular mechanisms in diabetes development and therapies that can stop or reverse those processes. The goal is to develop innovative treatment and prevention modalities for diabetes. She is also spearheading a novel research effort to draw connections between cancer and diabetes in the hopes of preventing and providing better treatments for both. Areas of research focus include delineating the cellular pathways/mechanisms of insulin release and blood glucose control, developing cellular therapies to treat type 1 and type 2 diabetes, improving islet cell transplantation and identifying biomarkers for detecting diabetes development.
Angela L. Talton, M.B.A.
Angela L. Talton, M.B.A., joined City of Hope as senior vice president and its first chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer. She provides leadership for City of Hope’s holistic and integrated efforts to continue its focus on building a diverse and inclusive culture at all levels of the enterprise. Talton’s expertise in diversity, equity and inclusion encompasses leadership development, recruitment and retention of talent, communication strategy, philanthropic giving, supplier diversity and analytics. Throughout her career, Talton has held a variety of senior executive roles, including serving as a divisional vice president at Sears Holding Corporation and as a vice president of business processes at ALLTEL Communications Inc. More recently, she served in senior executive roles at industry leader Nielson for nearly 12 years, including chief diversity officer, senior vice president of global diversity and inclusion, and senior vice president of global call center operations. It was there that she crafted a five-pronged strategy focused on accountability, career development, talent retention, supplier diversity and education.