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Discovering the causes of cancer and the means of prevention

Current Fellows in the Clinical Genetics Branch

Meet the current fellows in the Clinical Genetics Branch (CGB) and learn about current CGB research training opportunities.

Rotana Alsaggaf, Ph.D., M.S. – Postdoctoral Fellow

Rotana Alsaggaf, Ph.D., M.S., became a postdoctoral fellow in CGB in 2018. Dr. Alsaggaf earned a B.S. in biological science with an interdisciplinary certificate in biomedical engineering from Colorado State University in 2009, an M.S. in epidemiology and preventive medicine with a concentration in human genetics in 2015 and a Ph.D. in epidemiology in 2018—both from the University of Maryland, Baltimore. As a predoctoral fellow under the mentorship of Shahinaz Gadalla, M.D, Ph.D., Earl Stadtman Investigator, she conducted her doctoral research utilizing the United Kingdom Clinical Practice Research Datalink to evaluate the risk of benign and malignant tumors in patients with myotonic dystrophy type I and explore factors associated with their development. As a postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Alsaggaf continues to work with Dr. Gadalla on epidemiological and molecular analyses to inform cancer predisposition in myotonic dystrophy, and to study the role of telomere biology in cancer susceptibility.

Scientific Publications – Rotana Alsaggaf

Burak Altintas, M.D. – Postdoctoral Fellow

Portrait of Burak Altintas

Burak Altintas, M.D., joined CGB as a postdoctoral fellow in 2019. Dr. Altintas earned his M.D. from Hacettepe University in Ankara, Turkey, in 2018. His research interests include pediatric hematological malignancies and cancer predisposition syndromes, including inherited bone marrow failure syndromes and RASopathies, as well as immunodeficiency syndromes. Dr. Altintas is working with Blanche Alter, M.D., M.P.H., senior clinician, and Lisa McReynolds, M.D., Ph.D., assistant clinical investigator, to investigate genotype-phenotype associations in patients with Fanconi anemia participating in CGB clinical studies and characterization of somatic mutations in patients with inherited bone marrow failure syndromes. He plans to do a pediatric residency after his time at the NCI.

Esteban Astiazaran Symonds, M.D – Clinical Fellow

Portrait of Esteban Astiazaran Symonds

Esteban Astiazaran Symonds, M.D., joined the Clinical Genetics Branch (CGB) in January 2020 as a clinical fellow. Dr. Symonds obtained his M.D. from Universidad de Sonora, Mexico, in 2014, completed his internal medicine residency at New York Medical College, New York, New York, and subsequently completed a Medical Genetics and Genomics Fellowship at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), NIH. Dr. Symonds is board-certified in internal medicine. He joins DCEG during his Laboratory Genetics and Genomics Fellowship to study the genetic and phenotypic variability of individuals with cancer predisposing syndromes, specifically in families with familial melanoma and pancreatic cancer. He is also investigating genome-first approaches used in Noonan syndrome and other RASopathies. In CGB, Dr. Symonds works with Alisa M. Goldstein, Ph.D., senior investigator, and Douglas Stewart, MD., senior investigator, on projects related to these topics.

Kelvin C. de Andrade, Ph.D., M.Sc. – Postdoctoral Fellow

Kelvin César de Andrade became a postdoctoral fellow in CGB after successfully defending his doctoral dissertation in 2018. He first joined the branch in 2015, while a student at the A.C. Camargo Cancer Center, São Paulo, Brazil, to complete the research component of his master's degree. As a postdoctoral fellow under the mentorship of Sharon Savage, M.D., Chief and senior investigator, Dr. de Andrade continues to study genetic and behavioral factors that could be associated with cancer risk, progression, and phenotypic variability in Li-Fraumeni Syndrome patients.

Scientific Publications – Kelvin César de Andrade

Matthew Gianferante, M.D. - Clinical Fellow

Matthew Gianferante, M.D., joined CGB as a postdoctoral clinical fellow in 2017. Dr. Gianferante obtained his M.D. at the Uniformed Service University (USU). He completed a pediatric residency at Tufts Floating Hospital for Children, a pediatric hematology oncology fellowship at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and a master’s in public health with a concentration in epidemiology and biostatistics from USU. Dr. Gianferante works with Lisa Mirabello, Ph.D., to investigate the disease-associated mutations in osteosarcoma and in pediatric cancer survivors. He also focuses on gene discovery and genotype-phenotype characterization of Diamond Blackfan anemia patients in the inherited bone marrow failure cohort under the mentorship of Sharon Savage, M.D., and Neelam Giri, M.D. Dr. Gianferante is a commissioned officer in the United States Public Health Service and has been deployed seven times for medical missions since 2017. 

Scientific Publications - Matthew Gianferante

Summer Harvey, B.A. – Postbaccalaureate Fellow

Portrait of Summer Harvey

Summer Harvey, B.A., joined CGB as a postbaccalaureate fellow in August 2020, following her graduation from the University of Virginia (UVA) with a B.A. in biology. She is currently working towards earning her M.P.H. from the Department of Public Health Sciences at the UVA School of Medicine. As an undergraduate student, Ms. Harvey worked under the mentorship of Nicolas Wentzensen, M.D., Ph.D., Deputy Chief and senior investigator, and Megan Clarke, Ph.D., M.H.S., Earl Stadtman Investigator, in 2017 and 2018. She is continuing her work with Drs. Clarke and Wentzensen as a postbaccalaureate fellow and is currently involved in projects studying trends and predictors of hysterectomy in the United States, as well as associations of life course obesity with endometrial cancer.

 Scientific Publications - Summer Harvey

Sarah Irvin, M.S. - Predoctoral Fellow

Sarah Irvin, M.S., joined CGB in 2017 as a predoctoral fellow. Ms. Irvin earned her M.S. in epidemiology from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, with a concentration in cancer epidemiology. Prior to joining NCI, Ms. Irvin worked as a consultant in the field of pharmacoepidemiology, and interned at Bayer AG in Berlin, Germany. She is working under the mentorship of Nicolas Wentzensen, M.D., Ph.D., Deputy Chief and senior investigator, on projects investigating immune markers in cervical cancer development and the risk of ovarian cancer by subtype after exposure to multiple inflammatory exposures.

Jung Kim, Ph.D. – Research Fellow

Jung Kim, Ph.D., joined CGB as a postdoctoral fellow in 2016. Dr. Kim earned her Ph.D. in cancer biology from the Driskill Graduate Program in Life Sciences at Northwestern University in 2015, after which she completed a one-year postdoctoral fellowship working with Dr. Jindan Yu. Her doctoral and postdoctoral research focused on the transcriptional regulation of key signaling pathways in prostate cancer, including miRNA and epigenetic regulators. In DCEG, where she was promoted to research fellow in 2019, she is working with Douglas Stewart, M.D., senior investigator, to study the population genetics and phenotype of DICER1 and associated miRNA processing genes, and to analyze somatic genomic data of DICER1-associated malignancies.

Scientific Publications - Jung Kim

Marena Niewisch, M.D. – Postdoctoral Fellow

Portrait of Marena Niewisch

Marena Niewisch, M.D., joined CGB as a postdoctoral fellow in 2019. Dr. Niewisch earned her M.D. from Eberhard Karls University of Tuebingen, Germany. She completed her residency in pediatrics at the University of Freiburg Children’s Hospital, Germany in 2016, followed by a fellowship in pediatric hematology-oncology at Hannover Medical School, Germany. She has previously worked in clinical research focusing on myelodysplastic syndrome in children. As a postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Niewisch is working under the mentorship of Sharon A. Savage, M.D., Chief and senior investigator, to investigate genotype-phenotype correlations in dyskeratosis congenita and associated telomere biology disorders.

Scientific Publications - Marena Niewisch

Leatrisse Oba, M.D. – Postdoctoral Fellow

Leatrisse Oba, M.D., joined CGB as a postdoctoral fellow in 2018. Dr. Oba earned her M.D. from the University of Brasilia, Brazil in 2001, and worked in clinical research for four years. She completed her residency in pediatrics in 2009 at Asa Sul’s Regional Hospital, FEPECS, Brasília, Brazil. After her residency, she worked as a pediatrician and a clinical assistant in the Emergency department, collaborating with the Pediatrics Residency Program at the University Hospital of Brasilia and Asa Sul’s Regional Hospital, Brazil. Dr. Oba first joined CGB as a special volunteer in 2016, working with Maria Isabel Achatz, M.D., Ph.D., adjunct investigator, and Payal Khincha, M.B.B.S., M.S.H.S., Physician-Scientist Early Investigator, on a collaborative project evaluating the effect of cancer treatment on the development of subsequent cancers in Li-Fraumeni syndrome (LFS) patients. As a postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Oba is working with Sharon A. Savage, M.D., Chief and senior investigator, and Dr. Khincha, continuing the study of radiotherapy and chemotherapy effects on LFS patients, as well as researching screening exam findings on LFS patients, and novel clinical findings in other cancer predisposition syndromes.

Ixta Obregon, B.S. – Postbaccalaureate Fellow

Portrait of Ixta Obregon

Ixta Obregon, B.S., joined the Clinical Genetics Branch (CGB) as a postbaccalaureate fellow, via the NIH Undergraduate Scholarship Program (UGSP), in September 2020. Ms. Obregon recently earned a B.S. in biochemistry and mathematics from the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas. In CGB, she will work primarily with Sharon A. Savage, M.D., DCEG Clinical Director, Chief, and senior investigator, and the Li-Fraumeni syndrome study team on a project evaluating the immunologic status of individuals with germline TP53 pathogenic variants and its association with cancer.

Valencia Owens, B.S. - Postbaccalaureate Fellow

Portrait of Valencia Owens

Valencia Owens, B.S., joined CBG as a postbaccalaureate fellow in 2019. Ms. Owens is working with Sharon A. Savage, M.D., Chief and senior investigator, and Lisa J. McReynolds, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Clinical Investigator. She is also working in the DCEG Cancer Genomics Research Laboratory under the mentorship of Seth Brodie, Ph.D., senior investigator. Ms. Owens graduated in 2019 from the University of Minnesota where she completed her B.S. in psychology. As an undergraduate student, Ms. Owens worked at the STEM Cell Institute under Dr. Jakub Tolar, where she was involved in studies of childhood cerebral adrenoleukodystrophy (ccALD). Subsequently, Ms. Owens completed her capstone project in a neuroscience lab under Dr. Nicola Grissom at the University of Minnesota; she investigated correlations between learned behavior and the nucleus accumbens. As a postbaccalaureate fellow in CGB and CGR, Ms. Owens is working on functional studies of variants discovered in exon sequencing studies and will work on variant genomics using bioinformatic tools.

Emily Pearce, M.P.H. – Postbaccalaureate Fellow

Portrait of Emily Pearce

Emily Pearce, M.P.H., joined CGB as a postbaccalaureate fellow in March 2020. Ms. Pearce earned her M.P.H. from the Department of Health Behavior at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. She holds a graduate diploma in forced migration and refugee studies from the American University in Cairo and received her B.A. from Yale University in 2003. She is interested in intersections between health behavior and epigenetics, social epidemiology, and health disparities. She is working with Shahinaz Gadalla, M.D., Ph.D., Earl Stadtman Tenure-Track Investigator, to study telomere length measurement and how donor telomere length impacts recipient survival after hematopoietic cell transplantation.

Scientific Publications - Emily Pearce

Maisa Pinheiro, Ph.D. – Postdoctoral Fellow

Dr. Maisa Pinheiro joined CGB as a postdoctoral fellow in 2017. She completed a Bachelor's deegree in biology at the State University of North Paraná, Brazil, and received her Ph.D. in genetics from the São Paulo State University, Brazil, in 2016. Her Ph.D. research was focused on evaluating whole exome sequencing data to identify novel candidate genes that predispose to familial breast and thyroid cancers. Dr. Pinheiro performed part of her thesis work at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network and the University of Toronto, Canada. Under the mentorship of Lisa Mirabello, Ph.D., senior investigator, her work is focused on HPV genomic studies including the evaluation of HPV genome variation and its associations with carcinogenicity.

Scientific Publications - Maisa Pinheiro

Carolann Risley, Ph.D., M.S.N. - Postdoctoral Fellow

Portrait of Carolann Risley

Carolann Risley, Ph.D., M.S.N., joined the Clinical Epidemiology Unit in the CGB as a postdoctoral fellow in 2019. Dr. Risley earned an M.S.N. from the University of Pennsylvania and a certification as a women’s health nurse practitioner in 1992. She is a cervical colposcopist and has practiced throughout the Northeastern and Southern United States. She earned her Ph.D. in nursing in 2019 from the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) under the mentorship of Drs. Mary Stewart and Kim Geisinger. Prior to completing her doctoral degree, she studied determinants of HPV vaccination uptake and provider recommendations. For her doctoral dissertation, she analyzed electronic medical records to examine racial differences in HPV 16 prevalence in women receiving cervical cancer screening in Mississippi. Dr. Risley serves as the co-PI of the STRIDES study (STudying Risk to Improve DisparitES in cervical cancer in Mississippi), a study led by investigators at UMMC, the Mississippi State Department of Health, and the NCI. The study is designed to evaluate risk of cervical precancer and to study novel biomarkers in women undergoing screening in Mississippi. Under the mentorship of Nicolas Wentzensen, M.D., Ph.D., M.S., Deputy Chief and senior investigator and Megan Clarke, Ph.D, M.H.S., Earl Stadtman Investigator. Dr. Risley is conducting epidemiologic analyses evaluating HPV natural history and cervical cancer risk in this racially-diverse and underserved population.

Scientific Publications - Carolann Risley

Michael Sargen, M.D. – Clinical Fellow

Michael Sargen, M.D., joined CGB in 2018 as a postdoctoral clinical fellow. Dr. Sargen obtained his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine in 2013 and completed his dermatology residency at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He subsequently completed a dermatopathology fellowship at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California. Dr. Sargen is board-certified in dermatology and dermatopathology. He joined DCEG to study the clinical, histopathologic, and genetic characteristics of melanoma-prone families. Dr. Sargen also uses epidemiologic and molecular approaches to investigate risk factors for sebaceous carcinoma and other rare cutaneous malignancies. Dr. Sargen works with Alisa Goldstein, Ph.D., senior investigator, and Margaret Tucker, M.D., scientist emerita, to investigate these questions as well as provide dermatology care to an American cohort of melanoma families.

 Scientific Publications - Michael Sargen

Radhika Srivastava, B.A. - Postbaccalaureate Fellow

Portrait of Radhika Srivastava

Radhika Srivastava, B.A., joined CGB as a postbaccalaureate fellow in 2019. Ms. Srivastava graduated with distinction with a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Duke University in 2019. For her undergraduate honors thesis, she evaluated the culturally driven maternal influences on children’s language development through the Wilbourn Infant Laboratory at Duke. Her undergraduate research additionally focused on analyzing the mental health of orphaned and vulnerable children in a residential care program in New Delhi, India, with the Duke Global Health Institute. Ms. Srivastava is working under the guidance of Douglas Stewart, M.D., senior investigator, to characterize different behavioral and genomic factors associated with patients with Li-Fraumeni Syndrome. She is also working to gain clinical exposure. She hopes to attend medical school after completing her fellowship at the NCI.

Ashley Thompson, B.S. – Postbaccalaureate Fellow

Ashley Thompson, B.S., joined CGB as a postbaccalaureate fellow through the NIH Undergraduate Scholarship Program in 2018. Ms. Thompson earned her B.S. in biochemistry from Converse College, Spartanburg, South Carolina. Her undergraduate research focused on analyzing the molecular weight distribution of a commercially-available synthetic biocide, in order to ascertain its biological efficacy. Ms. Thompson is working with Sharon A. Savage, M.D., Chief and senior investigator, to determine if novel genetic variants in the regulator of telomere elongation helicase 1 gene (RTEL1) will result in alternative isoforms of the protein. The novel genetic variants will be studied for functional changes or changes in gene expression using RNA sequencing from patient-derived samples. Ms. Thompson is also involved with other genomic efforts in the Inherited Bone Marrow Failure Syndromes Study. She hopes to attend medical school to obtain her M.D./Ph.D. after her time at the NCI.

Scientific Publications - Ashley Thompson

Mone't Thompson, B.S. - Postbaccalaureate Fellow

Mone't Thompson, B.S., joined CGB in 2018 as a postbaccalaureate fellow in the inaugural Intramural Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences (iCURE) program, an NCI program that supports mentored research experiences in the multidisciplinary research environment of the NCI for qualified scientists. Ms. Thompson received her B.S. in biology from Bowie State University, during which time she worked on research involving the key signaling pathway modulations that precede the development of sarcopenia. Ms. Thompson is an aspiring M.D./Ph.D. student and is interested in cancer biology, treatment, and prevention. As a postbaccalaureate fellow under the mentorship of Sharon Savage, M.D., Chief and senior investigator, Ms. Thompson is working on different aspects of myotonic dystrophy and Li-Fraumeni Syndrome.

Scientific Publications - Mone't Thompson

Youjin Wang, Ph.D. - Research Fellow

Youjin Wang, Ph.D., joined CGB as a postdoctoral fellow in 2016, after earning her Ph.D. in epidemiology from the University at Buffalo, SUNY School of Public Health and Health Professions. Working with Dr. Jean Wactawski-Wende, her doctoral research focused on the interactions of genetic susceptibility, menopausal estrogen use, and calcium/vitamin D supplementation on fracture risk among postmenopausal women. Dr. Wang’s research interests are to study the interplay of genetic and environmental factors in cancer risk and cancer treatment outcome. In 2018 Dr. Wang was promoted to research fellow. She is working with Shahinaz Gadalla, M.D., Ph.D., Earl Stadtman Investigator, to evaluate the effect of pre-transplant molecular markers and genetic alterations on outcomes after hematopoietic cell transplantation and to examine the association between pharmaceutical agents and the risk of cancer.

Scientific Publications – Youjin Wang

Catherine Wilsnack, M.S.W., L.M.S.W – Postbaccalaureate Fellow

Portrait of Catherine Wilsnack

Catherine Wilsnack, M.S.W., joined CGB as a postbaccalaureate Fellow in 2019. Ms. Wilsnack earned her Master of Social Work (MSW) from the University of Pennsylvania and is a Licensed Social Worker. She previously earned a B.S. in psychology with a minor in hispanic studies and social and economic justice from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ms. Wilsnack’s graduate research was focused on understanding the challenges faced by families with Li-Fraumeni syndrome (LFS), and she primarily has clinical experience working with patients and families with terminal illnesses in death, dying, and bereavement care settings. During her fellowship, she will continue to work on LFS related projects, as well as performing psychosocial research for Inherited Bone Marrow Failure Syndromes (IBFMS) under the mentorship of Sharon Savage, M.D., Chief and senior investigator, and Dr. Allison Werner-Lin, University of Pennsylvania.

Catherine Wilsnack - Scientific Publications