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City of Hope graduates two new classes of scientific leaders

graduation
This year, the Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences at Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope is celebrating two graduating classes, conferring master’s and doctorate degrees to both the class of 2020 and 2021. Last year’s celebrations were postponed due to the pandemic. 
 
“Our graduating students have worked very hard to attain their advanced degrees, and we are ecstatic to be able to celebrate their accomplishments. We wish them well as they move on to some of the top biotech companies in the nation, federal agencies and comprehensive cancer centers,” said David K. Ann, Ph.D., dean of City of Hope’s Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences. “We have trained these students to be future biomedical leaders whose research could help bring lifesaving treatments to patients who need them.”
 
Commencement will take place Friday, June 11, at 4 p.m. in City of Hope’s Rose Garden located at 1500 E. Duarte Road in Duarte, California. Due to COVID-19 social distancing safety precautions, in-person attendance at the commencement will be limited to about 100 people.
 
This is the first large gathering City of Hope has hosted since the pandemic began over a year ago. The hybrid ceremony will also be broadcast live at event.cityofhope.org/commencement; Google Chrome is the recommended browser to use.
 
George Tsai, chairman of Fairmont Designs, will receive an honorary doctorate degree in honor of his strong international advocacy of the clinical care and research at City of Hope and for his generous support establishing the George Tsai Family Chair in Geriatric Oncology. Fairmont Designs is a major supplier of hospitality furniture worldwide with four factories in China, Taiwan, Vietnam and California. 
 
Steven B. Fink, chair of Beckman Research Institute’s board of directors and a member of City of Hope’s board of directors, will be the commencement speaker. Fink is the former chief executive officer of Lawrence Investments LLC, a venture capital firm that invested in numerous technology, biotechnology, medical and education companies, including salesforce.com, NetSuite, Quark Biosciences and K-12 Inc., a New York Stock Exchange-listed virtual charter school company. Fink is currently vice chairman of Heron International and a member of the board of directors of K-12 and Jackson Laboratories. Fink has served in numerous other positions, including as a founding partner, managing director and vice chairman of Knowledge Universe (now KinderCare Education), which focuses on educational companies and is one of the world’s largest for-profit education companies.
 
Nearly 200 students have graduated from City of Hope’s Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences since its founding in 1994. Alumni have gone on to positions at major universities, research institutions, and pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.
 
Following are profiles of this year's graduates.
 

2020: Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Biological Sciences

Vishnu Amaram from Kurnool, India, was a first-generation graduate student. He 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 the author of five publications from the research in Natarajan’s lab and more research is to be published. He is pursuing a clinical chemistry postdoctoral fellowship at UCLA to develop and validate immunoassay and mass spectrometry-based methods for the detection of cancer therapeutic drugs and drugs of abuse. He is also co-training for screening and identification of hematological cancers: both by molecular methods and capillary electrophoresis. 
 
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 and associate director of shared resources for the cancer center, she 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 is first-author to one research publication and one review article and is a co-author on several other research publications. Outside of the lab, she founded City of Hope’s graduate student symposium and completed a certificate program in bioscience management from Keck Graduate Institute. Currently a postdoctoral fellow studying diabetic kidney disease, she plans to pursue a research career in the biotechnology industry.
 
Yvonne Rosales Cornejo grew up in Fontana, California, and earned a B.S. in animal science/pre-vet and a minor in microbiology from Cal Poly Pomona and a D.V.M. 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, M.D., 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 Ph.D. training, she also completed a laboratory animal medicine residency under the direction of Richard W. Ermel, D.V.M., Ph.D. She has several publications including two second author publications. She is now working at a contact research organization in West Sacramento, California, 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 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 is now a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Kathleen Burns, M.D., Ph.D., at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School. He was recently awarded a postdoctoral fellowship from the Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund for his investigation of the LINE-1 retrotransposon in cancer biology. 
 
Karla Merz was born in Beirut, Lebanon, and raised in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Merz 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. Under the mentorship of Debbie C. Thurmond, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Molecular & Cellular Endocrinology and the Ruth B. & Robert K. Lanman Chair in Gene Regulation & Drug Discovery Research, Merz 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. Merz, an 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. Merz now works in business development at Amgen on their external R&D team.
 
Megan Minnix grew up in Dallas, Texas, and earned a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry at University of Texas at Austin. As an undergraduate researcher in Dr. Edward Marcotte’s lab she investigated the retention of ancestral functionality across evolution and solidified her interest in becoming a scientist. While pursuing her Ph.D. at City of Hope, Minnix worked in the laboratory of John Shively, Ph.D., where she developed multiple theranostic agents for cancer diagnostics and therapy, focusing on ovarian, multiple myeloma and prostate cancers. During her studies, Minnix received funding from the H.N. and Frances Berger Foundation and an RO1 grant. Her thesis research led to three first author scientific papers and she is listed as an author on several others. Minnix is currently working as a postdoc in Shively’s lab, expanding on her graduate work to investigate combinatorial treatment regimens to include CAR T cell therapy and immunocytokines with radioimmunotherapy.
 
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, with guidance from assistant professor Saul J. 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 UC San Diego prior to attending City of Hope's Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences. Setten performed his doctoral work under the mentorship of John J. Rossi, Ph.D., dean emeritus of the graduate school, Lidow Family Research Chair, and professor and chair of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. 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 which has been accepted. 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.
 
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., former associate professor in 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 in the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research, 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.
 
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 five 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 now supported by the F99-K00 Fellowship from the National Cancer Institute. He is currently receiving postdoctoral training from the Nobel Laureate James Allison, Ph.D., at MD Anderson Cancer Center, and planning to pursue a career in translational research with an immunotherapy focus.
 
Catherine Elix was born in Portland, Oregon. She received her B.S. degree in biology from University of California Riverside prior to attending the Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences. Elix performed her dissertation work under the co-mentorship of Jeremy Jones, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Cancer Biology, and David K. Ann, Ph.D., the Morgan & Helen Chu Dean's Chair of the Graduate School of Biological Sciences, and professor and associate chair of the Department of Diabetes Complications & Metabolism. Elix’s work includes preclinical research focused on the role of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma in Prostate Cancer initiation and progression. Elix is now a postdoctoral fellow at Loma Linda University in the laboratory of Dr. Carlos Casiano where she is continuing her work on nuclear receptors in the context of metastatic and chemoresistant Prostate Cancer. She plans to pursue a career in translational cancer research.
 
Manbir Sandhu was born in Anaheim, California, and grew up in Turlock, California, in the Central Valley. He was a first-generation college student when he began his scientific journey at UC San Diego. He also gained valuable research experience during a postbaccalaureate position at UC San Francisco before completing his doctoral journey at City of Hope. During his Ph.D., Sandhu worked with Nagarajan Vaidehi, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Computational and Quantitative Medicine, to study the structural determinants that facilitate G protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) to recognize and interact with G protein transducers and how agonists can alter the selectivity of GPCRs to different G proteins. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital working with Madan Babu, Ph.D., in the Center for Data Driven Discovery where he explores the role of GPCRs in pediatric diseases. Sandhu was an H.N. & Frances Berger Fellow, as well as a Helen & Morgan Chu Fellow. He published two first-author publications, with one currently in review, and co-authored several publications in the lab. 
 

2020: Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Biological Sciences

Emilee Bargoma
 

2020: Master of Science in 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 & 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. After graduating in 2020, she accepted a position with Daneng Li, M.D., as a clinical research assistant in City of Hope’s Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research. She is a co-author on a commentary published in JCO Oncology Practice and a research article currently in review.
 
Renee Estephan graduated with a B.S. in biology from Cal Poly Pomona and an M.S. from the Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences at City of Hope. While at City of Hope, Estephan conducted research on miRNAs in cutaneous T cell lymphoma. Her work has been highlighted by the American Society of Hematology, and is currently in the process of being published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. Currently, she is a quality control analyst at NKGEN Biotech, a pioneer in natural killer cell therapies. Estephan thanks her mentors, faculty and fellow graduate students for all their support during her time at City of Hope. 
 

2020: Master of Science in Biological Science

Veronica Verplancken
 

2020: Master of Science in Translational Medicine

Eemon Tizpa was born in Olympia, Washington. Growing up he had a strong interest in science, but after his grandfather passed from colorectal cancer, he was particularly motivated to pursue a career in medicine and oncology. He completed his undergraduate degree in biochemistry at Pitzer College in June 2018 and was excited to join City of Hope's Translational Medicine Program to grow in his understanding of cancer research and clinical medicine. During the program, Tizpa completed his thesis investigating a novel therapy for melanoma brain metastasis in the lab of Ammar Chaudhry, Ph.D., assistant clinical professor in the Department of Diagnostic Radiology. He was also given the opportunity to shadow distinguished clinical professors such as Steven Rosen, M.D., the Irell & Manella Cancer Center Director's Distinguished Chair, and learn a great amount about oncology. After graduating from the program, Tizpa is currently working at Fulgent Genetics to provide COVID-19 testing and COVID-19 vaccines to communities in Southern California, and will be joining Elson Floyd College of Medicine's Class of 2025 in August this year.  
 
Gubidxa Gutierrez Seymour, born in Nezahualcóyotl, Mexico, and raised on the Key Peninsula in Washington State, earned a Bachelor of Science in exercise science from California Lutheran University. Working in the laboratory of Jeffrey Weitzel, M.D., the Dr. Norman & Melinda Payson Professor in Medical Oncology, and professor and chief of the Division of Clinical Cancer Genomics, he investigated the origin and distribution of recurrent CHEK2 and PALB2 variants in the Americas. He has a manuscript in development and is a co-author on a publication currently in review. He currently works as a member of the research team of Stephen Gruber, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., professor in the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research, and is a co-founder of City of Hope’s newest employee resource group, the Indigenous People Alliance. He plans to pursue a career in medicine.
 

2021: Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.d.) in Biological Sciences

Michelle Ho grew up in the town of Westford, Massachusetts, and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics from UCLA. Under the mentorship of John Burnett, Ph.D., assistant research professor in the Center for Gene Therapy, and John Rossi, Ph.D., Lidow Family Research Chair, and professor and chair of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, her work focused on the development of CRISPRs for hereditary mitochondrial diseases. During her studies, she was supported by fellowships from the H.N. and Frances Berger and Helen and Morgan Chu foundations and co-authored two manuscripts. Ho is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Laboratory of Translational Genomics at the National Cancer Institute studying genetic risk factors related to bladder cancer.
 
Seung Sarah Cha was born in Seoul, South Korea, and grew up in Claremont, California. She received her bachelor's degree from UCLA and masters from California State University Fullerton (CSUF). Cha’s research experience started as a student researcher and continued as a research assistant at UCLA, where she decided to pursue a career in research. For her Ph.D., Chaworked under the mentorship of John Shively, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Immunology & Theranostics at City of Hope. Her dissertation focused on combining a chimeric antigen receptor therapy with chemotherapy and immunocytokine treatments to enhance the therapeutic efficacy against carcinoembryonic antigen-expressing colon and breast tumors in vivo, which resulted in a first-author scientific paper. Cha will soon start her new job as a scientist at Atara Biotherapeutics, where she is continuing her preclinical research in cancer immunotherapy. 
 
Jennifer Covello was born in Argentina and moved with her family to California at 8 years old. She became the first in her family to complete her bachelor's degree from the University of California Riverside before joining our program. Under the mentorship of Karen S. Aboody, M.D., in the Department of Developmental and Stem Cell Biology, Covello developed a neural stem cell delivered oncolytic virotherapy for the treatment of glioblastoma and ovarian cancer. Her efforts have aided in the approval of a new clinical trial at City of Hope. Covello, an H.N. and Frances Berger Foundation and Norman and Melinda Payson Fellow, has one accepted first author publication stemming from her graduate work and two more in editing for submission. She is also a co-author on several other publications. Since defending her dissertation, Covello has begun a postdoctoral fellowship at MD Anderson Cancer Center, in the laboratory of Moran Amit, M.D., Ph.D.
 
Ying Qing (卿莹) grew up in Taian, China, and earned her M.D. degree from Shandong University. She performed her Ph.D. work under the mentorship of Jianjun Chen, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Systems Biology and the Simms/Mann Family Foundation Chair in Systems Biology. Qing’s work focuses on the epitranscriptomic regulation of cancer cell metabolism, which has led to four first/co-first author publications and several co-author publications in top tier journals. Qing was also the recipient of the Dr. Arthur Riggs Fellowship in 2017 and the Held Foundation Fellowship in 2018. She plans to use her training in epitranscriptomics and cancer metabolism to pursue a career with the combination of basic research and clinical practice in oncology.
 
L. Jillianne Tsai grew up in Los Angeles County and received her B.S. from University of California Merced. She then completed her M.S. at Cal Poly Pomona where she was awarded a CIRM fellowship, which was carried out at The Scripps Research Institute. At the Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences, Tsai worked under the mentorship of Jeremy M. Stark, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Cancer Genetics and Epigenetics. During this time, she defined the roles of multiple factors on determining distinct DNA double-strand break repair outcomes. This work led to a first-author publication and two co-authored publications. Tsai was also awarded an H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation Student Fellowship in 2016 and completed the Certificate in Bioscience Management program at KGI. Tsai is now working at Guardant Health as a medical science liaison.
 
Ryan Z. Urak earned his Bachelor of Science degrees in biology and biochemistry from University of California Riverside and his Master of Science degree in biology from California State Polytecnic University, Pomona. He completed his graduate education in the laboratory of Kevin V. Morris, Ph.D., professor and associate director of the Center for Gene Therapy. Urak’s dissertation work focused on protecting anti-HIV CAR T cells from HIV infection. During Urak’s graduate studies, he was the first author of a scientific paper, “Conditionally Replicating Vectors Mobilize Chimeric Antigen Receptors against HIV” and was co-author on nine other publications. He plans to pursue a career in translational immunotherapy.
 
Yanan (Elaine) Kang graduated from University of California Los Angeles in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and then completed her Ph.D. at the Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences in 2021. Working in the laboratory of Jacob Berlin, Ph.D., and Karen Aboody, M.D., her thesis focused on development of novel tumor associated macrophage targeting nanoformulations encapsulated with TLR agonists in the context of ovarian cancer. She is always willing to learn and grow. Kang recently joined the lab of Marcin Kortylewski, Ph.D., as postdoctoral fellow with the goal to develop novel formulations and delivery methods for oligonucleotide therapeutics for therapy of cancer and inflammatory diseases.
 

2021: Master of Science in Translational Medicine

Melissa Joyce Valerio was born in Pasig City, Philippines, and grew up in Lancaster, California. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry from the University of California Riverside. During her undergraduate career, she volunteered at Kaiser Permanente and a program that aimed to provide education for underprivileged children. One year after receiving her B.S., Vaerio joined the Master of Science in Translational Medicine (MSTM) joint program at KGI and City of Hope’s Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences. Throughout her time in the program, Valerio maintained a high grade point average, earning a spot on KGI’s Dean’s List every semester and obtaining the Highest Academic Achievement award in the MSTM program. Due to personal experience with hematological malignancies in her family, Valerio joined the lab of Guido Marucci, M.D., at City of Hope to better understand and contribute to research in this field and further her academic career. Valerio will continue to the Ph.D. in Translational Medicine program at City of Hope. 
 
Cloe Zimmerman graduated from University of Washington Seattle with a B.A. in psychology in 2007. She earned a graduate certificate in biotechnology from California State University Los Angeles in 2016, including a six-month internship at Gilead Pharmaceutical Sciences. She next worked as a grant project assistant for LA BioStart at Cal State LA and worked in the Howard Xu lab at the university, researching virulence factors in multidrug resistant strains of Acinetobacter baumannii. Her master’s thesis in the laboratory of Javier Gordon Ogembo, Ph.D., concerned the generation and characterization of a prophylactic vaccine for Epstein Barr virus, and she will be continuing on to the Ph.D. in Translational Medicine program at City of Hope's graduate school in Spring 2021.
 
Shawn Sharkas was born in Damascus, Syria, and grew up in Anaheim, California. Sharkas is a first-generation student and earned his Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of California Irvine. During his undergraduate degree, Sharkas conducted research in the field of WNT signaling in melanoma progression where he contributed data and figures to a manuscript, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. From there, Sharkas attended the Master of Science in Translational Medicine program at KGI and the Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences. He conducted his master’s thesis in the laboratory of John Rossi, Ph.D., in the field of RNA aptamer therapeutics in cancer. During his master’s thesis work, Sharkas authored a book chapter which is pending publication. Since then, Sharkas has joined the Ph.D. in Translational Medicine program at City of Hope where he continues his doctoral work in the lab of John Rossi, Ph.D.  
 
Vroniqa Ku’ulei-Lyn Faustino earned her B.S. in biology from Mount Saint Mary’s University, Los Angeles, characterizing wild-type p53 and its mutant variants. Under MSMU’s Global Women and STEM Interdisciplinary Research Training Program, she investigated the role of natural remedies and nutrition (fruit) on the cancer incidence in Cusco, Peru. She focused on the effect of ethyl acetate extracts from the noni plant (Morinda citrofolia) on HeLa cell viability. Faustino has been actively involved in developing and characterizing multivalent prophylactic vaccine candidates against Rhesus lymphocryptovirus (rhLCV) infection, a study model for developing Epstein-Barr virus vaccines. She will be joining the Ph.D. program this upcoming year and is interested in pursuing medical training as well. 
 
Gerardo Felix was raised in Norwalk, California. He graduated from California State University Long Beach with a B.S. in biology and continued to obtain a postbacculerate certificate in biotechnology through a funded 1-year internship at City of Hope. He is a first-generation graduate student and the first in his family to acquire a B.S. degree. During the internship he worked in the laboratory of Yanhong Shi, Ph.D., assisting in a preclinical research project testing a cellular therapy for treatment of Canavan disease. Following the internship, he worked in the lab as an research assistant while completing an MSTM program at KGI. He completed his MSTM thesis under the mentorship of Qiong Annabel Wang, Ph.D., where he studied the role of adipocytes in mammary gland involution. He is now in the process of transitioning into the Ph.D. in Translational Medicine program at City of Hope, continuing under the mentorship of Wang.
 
Griffith Kyle Otazu grew up in Pasadena, California, and earned his Bachelor of Science degree in neuroscience from Johns Hopkins University. Upon his arrival at City of Hope, he joined the laboratory of Behnam Badie, M.D., The Heritage Provider Network Professor in Gene Therapy, and professor and chief of the Division of Neurosurgery, to conduct his graduate research. Otazu’s work focused on the calcium-binding protein S100B and its potential role as an inducer of migration in glioma cell line models. Ultimately, the long-term goal of this research is to further establish S100B as a potential therapeutic target in treating glioblastoma. Otazu plans to prepare for and pursue medical school and he is looking forward to utilizing the research experience gained during his time at City of Hope.
 
Jessica Dang grew up in San Diego, California, and earned a Bachelor of Science at California State University San Marcos where she studied biochemistry. During her undergraduate career she became a research assistant under the guidance of Jacqueline Trischman, Ph.D., studying natural products for three years. After receiving her B.S., she joined the Master of Science in Translational Medicine (MSTM) joint program at KGI and City of Hope’s Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences. With an interest in immuno-oncology, she joined the lab of Mingye Feng, Ph.D., at City of Hope to better understand the underlying mechanism of macrophage-mediate immunosurveillance and its therapeutic potential, for which she has co-authored one scientific publication. She will continue to the Ph.D. in Translational Medicine program at City of Hope.
 

2021: Master of Science in Biological Science

Jacqueline (Rueger) Register was born and raised in Germany where she attended the Universität zu Lübeck to study Molecular Life Science. Register is a first-generation graduate. She earned her bachelor and master's degrees there before joining City of Hope. During her three years at City of Hope, Register worked in the lab of Cy Stein, M.D., Ph.D., and studied nucleotide-based drugs for the treatment of prostate cancer and glioblastomas. She co-authored two scientific publications and published one first author review article. Register was an active member of the Graduate Student Organization and served as treasurer, recruitment chair and vice president.