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AACR-Genentech Fellowships

The AACR-Genentech Fellowships represent a joint effort to encourage and support mentored young investigators to conduct cancer research and to establish successful career paths. Eligibility is limited to postdoctoral and clinical research fellows who have completed their most recent doctoral degree within the past five years. Proposed research projects may be basic, clinical, translational, or epidemiological in nature.

2020 Grantees

AACR-Genentech Cancer Disparities Research Fellowship
Tyler A. Allen, PhD

Tyler A. Allen, PhD

Postdoctoral Associate
Duke Cancer Institute
Durham, North Carolina
Interrogating ancestry-related alternative splicing variation in metastasis

Research
Prostate cancer (PCa) is the most frequently diagnosed solid malignancy in men. Epidemiological studies have shown African-American men to be at higher risk for developing prostate cancer and experience a higher death rate as compared to other ethnic groups. In patients with PCa, metastasis cases remain the leading cause of death, yet the underlying mechanisms of metastasis remain poorly understood. Accumulating studies suggest alternative RNA-splicing (ARS) plays a critical role in metastasis, warranting further investigation into this field. Dr. Allen hypothesizes that metastatic PCa cells use ARS during the metastasis process, enabling them to travel successfully and seed secondary sites. Additionally, he hypothesizes that differences in race-related ARS contribute to disparities in prostate cancer metastasis and mortality rates. To test this hypothesis, patient-matched primary and metastatic PCa tissue will be molecularly interrogated for ARS variation between the primary and secondary tumor sites. Tissues from equal numbers of patients of African or European ancestry will be analyzed to determine ancestryrelated ARS differences between primary and metastatic tissue.

Biography
Dr. Allen is a molecular and cell biologist and cancer health disparities researcher with expertise in cancer metastasis. He is a postdoctoral fellow in the Patierno/Freedman/George laboratory in the Duke Cancer Institute, and his work focuses on understanding the role of alternative RNA-splicing in metastasis. He earned his PhD from the College of Veterinary Medicine in Comparative Biomedical Sciences at North Carolina State University, where he was an NCI predoctoral fellow. Dr. Allen holds BS degrees in biology and plant biology, also from North Carolina State University.

Acknowledgment of Support
It is an honor to be selected for the AACR-Genentech Cancer Disparities Research Fellowship. This fellowship supports a study with significant impact on not only health disparities, but also the molecular understanding of the metastasis process. I am thankful for the award and look forward to helping advance the field with the support of AACR and Genentech.

AACR-Genentech Cancer Disparities Research Fellowship
Rania Bassiouni, PhD

Rania Bassiouni, PhD

Postdoctoral Scholar Research Associate
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California
Alpha-catenin loss contributes to racial disparity in breast cancer

Research
Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is recognized as an aggressive, treatment-resistant, and poor-prognosis disease. For reasons not well understood, African-American (AA) women are disproportionately affected by TNBC, with higher rates of incidence and mortality than Caucasian women. In an effort to distinguish biological factors that contribute to this disparity, Dr. Bassiouni has identified loss of the tumor suppressor alpha-catenin to be associated with poor survival of AA TNBC patients. Dr. Bassiouni’s study will utilize a racially-diverse panel of patientderived tissues to model and study alpha-catenin loss in TNBC. The study will examine the molecular and cellular consequences of alpha-catenin loss that could contribute to aggressive disease, as well as whether the resulting phenotype presents therapeutic opportunities for treatment of AA TNBC.

Biography
Dr. Bassiouni is a translational cancer researcher with an interest in integration of genomic and molecular techniques to interrogate and reduce cancer health disparities. She is a postdoctoral scientist at the University of Southern California working under the mentorship of Dr. John Carpten. Her research focuses on elucidating molecular mechanisms underlying aggressive triple-negative breast cancer in African-American patients, and defining therapeutic opportunities to reverse this disparity. Previously, Dr. Bassiouni received her PhD in biomedical sciences from the University of Central Florida, where she trained in cancer biology and pre-clinical therapeutic development.

Acknowledgment of Support
I am greatly honored to be awarded the 2020 AACR-Genentech Cancer Disparities Research Fellowship. With this support, I aim to advance our understanding of cancer health disparities and to ultimately benefit patients disproportionately burdened by disease.

AACR-Genentech Immuno-oncology Research Fellowship
Wei Wang, PhD

Wei Wang, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow
University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center
Madison, Wisconsin
Mechanism of immunosuppression in papillomavirus induced neoplastic disease

Research
Dr. Wang’s current research focuses on understanding how papillomavirus evades the host immune response to establish persistent infection. Her recent work indicated that stress keratin 17 is a key regulator to prevent T cell infiltration in mouse papillomavirus-induced lesions. Dr. Wang’s proposed research will address the molecular mechanisms underlying the K17 expression and T cell infiltration, using mouse papillomavirus, MmuPV1, as a model. Interestingly, stress keratin 17 has been found upregulated in a variety of human squamous cell carcinomas, not just limited to HPV+ cancers. Her current and proposed work will also be expanded to other types of cancers to understand the role of stress keratin 17 and immune regulation. The insights gained from these studies may lead to discovery of potentially targetable pathways to improve T cell infiltration and efficacy of existing immunotherapies.

Biography
Dr. Wang earned her bachelor’s degree in 2011 from Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China. She graduated from the Cellular and Molecular Pathology program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2016. Dr. Wang’s PhD work under the mentorship of Dr. Paul Sondel focused on the role of natural killer (NK) cells in antibody-based immunotherapies. Her past work suggested that NK cell receptor variations between patients could potentially serve as new biomarkers for patients’ response to Rituximab, Dinutuximab, and IL2 therapies for neuroblastoma, follicular lymphoma, and renal cell carcinoma respectively. Dr. Wang joined Dr. Paul Lambert’s laboratory in 2018 as a postdoctoral trainee and since then has been working on the role of stress keratin 17 in host immune response using mouse papillomavirus (MmuPV1) as a model. Her recent work demonstrated that K17 expression was critical for papilloma persistence in a T cell-dependent manner, and that the lack of K17 in mice led to significantly increased CD8+ T cell infiltration.

Acknowledgment of Support
The 2020 AACR-Genentech Immuno-oncology Research Fellowship will support my proposed study of investigating mechanisms of immune response regulation by K17 in cancer and help me transition to an independent researcher with the goal of applying what I learn from this study to improve current immunotherapy efficacy.

2019 Grantees

AACR-Genentech Cancer Health Disparities Research Fellowship
Serena Rodriguez, PhD, MPH

Serena Rodriguez, PhD, MPH

Postdoctoral Researcher
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
Dallas, Texas
Assessing cervical cancer screening among resettled refugee women

Research
Resettled refugees experience disproportionate cancer morbidity and mortality compared to non-refugee populations in host countries. In the United States, refugee women have significantly lower cervical cancer screening rates compared to American-born women. This study leverages cohort data from a large safety-net health care system and will 1) characterize cervical cancer screening, follow-up, and outcomes among refugee women, 2) describe barriers to screening and follow-up, and 3) synthesize findings to identify intervention opportunities to increase screening and follow-up among refugee patients. This study provides a unique opportunity to advance the field of refugee health care. It will assess data from an often hard-to-reach patient population to identify more granular disparities in screening and outcomes within a safety-net patient population (e.g., among refugee patients compared to non-refugee patients or among refugee patients from different geographical regions), if present. This specificity can pinpoint opportunities to create tailored interventions to increase screening and reduce cervical cancer incidence.

Biography
Dr. Rodriguez is a behavioral scientist and cancer health disparities researcher with expertise in intervention development and evaluation and a background in global health. She is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and her research focuses on improving cancer care delivery for vulnerable patient subpopulations. Dr. Rodriguez received her PhD from the UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston where she was an NCI predoctoral fellow. Dr. Rodriguez also holds an MPH from UTHealth, an MA in international service from the University of Roehampton, London, and a BA in psychology from Rice University.

Acknowledgment of Support
I am incredibly thankful to be awarded the AACR-Genentech Cancer Health Disparities Research Fellowship. This award supports a study I believe can make a significant impact on refugee health care and cancer health disparities. I am thankful for this opportunity to build my research portfolio as I move towards research independence.

AACR-Genentech Cancer Health Disparities Research Fellowship
Sumit Siddharth, PhD

Sumit Siddharth, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow
Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore, Maryland
NURR1 contributes to racial disparity of triple-negative breast cancer

Research
Earlier onset, more advanced stage at diagnosis, and aggressive tumor phenotype are some of the characteristic features of triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) in women with African ethnicity in comparison to European-American women, denoting one of the most significant examples of racial disparity in oncology. Mortality from TNBC is significantly higher in African American (AA) women in comparison to European American (EA) women (five-year relative survival of only 14 percent for AA in comparison to 36 percent for EA). It is imperative to understand the molecular determinants that drive aggressive progression of AA-TNBC. Based on an in vitro multiple cell line study and meta-analysis of a TNBC cohort, well validated by TCGA database, Dr. Siddharth hypothesizes that elevated NURR1 expression in AA-TNBC results in “oncogene addiction” and mediates aggressive progression of AA-TNBC in comparison to EA-TNBC and is a critical mediator of racial disparity in TNBC progression.

Biography
Dr. Siddharth is a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Dipali Sharma’s lab in the department of oncology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He is working on deciphering the molecular determinants responsible for racial disparity of triple negative breast cancer progression among African-American and European-American women. He completed his MS degree in biotechnology from HNB Garhwal University, India and earned his PhD in biotechnology with specialization in cancer biology from KIIT University, Odisha, India. His thesis research focused on the characterization of distinct pre-metastatic quiescent-breast cancer stem cells (Q-BCSCs) in a model system of breast cancer metastasis.

Acknowledgement of Support
I am extremely honored to be awarded the AACR-Genentech Cancer Health Disparities Research Fellowship 2019. This fellowship will allow me to develop a better understanding of molecular mechanisms driving African-American triple negative breast cancer growth and devise a pathway-specific therapeutic intervention in the future.

2018 Grantee

AACR-Genentech Immuno-oncology Research Fellowship
Hyungseok Seo, PhD

Hyungseok Seo, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow
La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology
La Jolla, California
Analysis of epigenetic reprogramming in tumor-infiltrating immune cells

Research
In the tumor microenvironment, both innate and adaptive immune cells exert their effector functions to cause tumor regression, or alternatively become exhausted/anergic and lose effector function. Although the molecular basis for the phenotypic, functional specialization and epigenetic reprogramming of tumor infiltrating exhausted CD8 T-cell has been well addressed, that of exhausted innate cells have not been fully addressed yet. CD8 T-cell can directly eradicate only tumor antigen-expressing tumor cells, but cannot reject tumors which have lost tumor antigens, which can be eradicated by innate cells. Additionally, TET2 is a key epigenetic regulator, but the role of TET2 in the epigenetic regulation of exhausted CD8 T-cell, NK-cell and macrophage is unknown. Considering the importance of immune cells in the tumor immunesurveillance, there is an urgent need to clarify whether epigenetic reprogramming also regulates exhausted innate cells within tumors and TET2 protein regulates epigenetic reprogramming of immune cells.

Biography
Dr. Seo received a BS degree in animal biotechnology from Seoul National University (Seoul, Korea) in August 2012, after which he started his graduate study in immunology at Seoul National University under the guidance of Dr. Kang and received his PhD degree in August 2017. His postdoctoral research focuses on elucidating the mechanisms underlying immune cell exhaustion by epigenetic reprogramming under the guidance of Dr. Anjana Rao. He expects that his studies will provide new insight into the transcriptional and epigenetic regulation of tumor-infiltrating immune cells as well as provide clues to develop tumor immunotherapies for advanced cancer patients.

Acknowledgement of Support
I am greatly honored to be awarded AACR-Genentech Immuno-oncology Research Fellowship. This award gives me an opportunity to advance our knowledge for epigenetic reprogramming of tumor-infiltrating immune cells. This award will not only provide insights into novel strategies for cancer immunotherapy, but also facilitate my carrier into an independent scientist.