Current Fellows in the Laboratory of Translational Genomics
Laufey Amundadottir Lab
Ehssan Abdolalizadeh, B.A.Sc., joined the Laboratory of Translational Genomics (LTG) as a postbaccalaureate fellow in August 2020. Mr. Abdolalizadeh graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in physiology and neurobiology. Prior to joining DCEG as a fellow, he spent two summers as an intern in the lab of Laufey Amundadottir, Ph.D., senior investigator, LTG, studying the CTRB1/2 inversion in pancreatic cancer and using CRISPR to study risk variants. In his new role in LTG, Mr. Abdolalizadeh will be working with his mentor Katelyn E. Connelly, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Amundadottir’s lab, to investigate the mechanisms underlying the pancreatic cancer risk signals at chr1p36.33 and chr7p14.1.
Erin Char, B.A., joined the Laboratory of Translational Genomics (LTG) in August 2020 as a postbaccalaureate fellow in the laboratory of Laufey Amundadottir, Ph.D., senior investigator. Ms. Char graduated in May 2020 from the University of Colorado at Boulder, where she completed a dual B.A. in computer science and molecular, cellular, and developmental biology. Her undergraduate research experience ranged from engineering an antibody with a deactivation mechanism, to exploring the therapeutic repression of DYRK1A protein in Down Syndrome patients, to applying machine learning techniques to the prediction of alternative splicing events. In LTG, she will be working with Jason Hoskins, Ph.D., staff scientist, on analyzing paired transcriptomic and epigenomic data of purified cell types from normal pancreatic tissue as well as characterizing the functional implications of a pancreatic cancer GWAS signal at the promoter of PDX1 on chr13q12.2.
Katelyn E. Connelly, Ph.D., joined the Laboratory of Translational Genomics (LTG) in February 2019 as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Laufey Amundadottir, Ph.D., senior investigator. Dr. Connelly earned her Ph.D. in medicinal chemistry and molecular pharmacology from Purdue University in 2018. Working with Dr. Emily C. Dykhuizen, her doctoral research focused on understanding the binding and oncogenic mechanisms of the epigenetic regulator CBX8. In DCEG, Dr. Connelly is investigating the functional roles of germline variants, identified by genome-wide association studies, in pancreatic cancer risk.
Aidan O’Brien, M.Pharm., MSc., joined the Laboratory of Translational Genomics (LTG) in October 2019 as a predoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Laufey Amundadottir, PhD., senior investigator. In 2017, Mr. O’Brien completed his pharmacy training at the School of Pharmacy at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), completing his research component under the guidance of Professor Chris Scott. With Professor Scott, Mr. O’Brien studied the proteomic effects of common chemotherapeutics on in vivo models of pancreatic cancer. Mr. O’Brien earned a master’s degree in cancer medicine at QUB in 2019. Under the supervision of Dr. Nick Orr, he focused on the identification of novel prostate cancer predisposition genes using chromatin conformation capture. Mr. O’Brien has also worked as a pharmacist since 2017. Currently, his research at DCEG focuses on the functional characterization of susceptibility variants identified through genome-wide association studies and the identification of novel non-coding driver mutations in pancreatic cancer.
Jun Zhong, Ph.D., joined the Laboratory of Translational Genomics (LTG) in July 2017 as a postdoctoral fellow under the mentorship of Laufey Amundadottir, Ph.D., senior investigator. Dr. Zhong completed his Ph.D. in bioinformatics from the Beijing Institute of Genomics, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (BIG, UCAS) in 2014. His thesis focused on whole- genome sequencing (WGS), de novo assembly, and resequencing applications of large-scale biological data. After his Ph.D., Dr. Zhong continued at BIG as a research associate and focused primarily on applications of single-molecule real-time sequencing technology (SMRT, PacBio) in human infectious diseases through pan-genome and precision methylome approaches. In the LTG, Dr. Zhong’s research focuses on identifying inherited variants associated with risk of pancreatic cancer using various genome-wide approaches, understanding the biology of germline risk variants using genomic technologies, and identifying non-coding somatic mutations that drive pancreatic carcinogenesis. Dr. Zhong has received an NIH Fellows Award for Research Excellence (FARE) and a Summer Research Mentor Award.
Kevin Brown Lab
Karen Funderburk, M.S., joined the Laboratory of Translational Genomics (LTG) in August 2019 as a postbaccalaureate fellow in the research group of Kevin Brown, Ph.D., senior investigator. She is also co-mentored by Jiyeon Choi, Ph.D., M.S., Earl Stadtman tenure-track investigator. Ms. Funderburk received a B.S. in biology and a B.A. in mathematics with a minor in chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2017 and an M.S. in applied mathematics from Arizona State University in 2019. During her time at Arizona State, Ms. Funderburk worked as a summer intern at the National Human Genome Research Institute, where she applied machine learning methods to DNA methylation data across multiple cancer types to determine optimal tumor classification techniques. As a postbaccalaureate fellow in LTG, she is using bioinformatic tools to identify functional variants of melanoma and lung cancer risk loci reported in genome-wide association studies.
Rebecca (Becky) Hennessey, Ph.D., joined the Laboratory of Translational Genomics (LTG) in November 2018 as a postdoctoral fellow in the research group of Kevin Brown, Ph.D., senior investigator, LTG. Dr. Hennessey earned her Ph.D. in biomedical sciences from the Ohio State University College of Medicine in 2018. Her doctoral research, performed under the guidance of Dr. Christin Burd, focused on the use of melanoma mouse models to study the role of ultraviolet radiation in melanomagenesis as well as to test the efficacy of sunscreens in preventing melanoma. In LTG, Dr. Hennessy’s work focuses on utilizing screening methods to functionally characterize multiple and complex melanoma susceptibility loci that were identified via genome-wide association studies.
Hyunkyung Kong, Ph.D., joined the Laboratory of Translational Genomics (LTG) in November 2017 as a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Kevin M. Brown, Ph.D., senior investigator. Dr. Kong completed her M.S. − Ph.D. unified course in biological sciences from Sookmyung Women’s University, South Korea. There, working with Dr. Jong Hoon Park, she focused on the genetic analysis and epigenetic mechanisms regulating drug susceptibility of breast cancer using a diverse panel of breast cancer cell lines and patient samples. In LTG, her work focuses on the functional characterization of susceptibility variants identified by genome-wide association studies, and how they influence the risk of melanoma.
Hayley A. Sowards joined the Laboratory of Translational Genomics (LTG) as a postbaccalaureate fellow in August 2019. She graduated from Arizona State University in May of 2019 with degrees in psychology and biology. During her undergraduate education, she completed an honors thesis under Drs. Mary Davis and Kathryn Lemery-Chalfant. Their work explored computer coded emotions during a parent/child dyadic interaction and whether the interaction was related to parental pain catastrophizing and predicted child chronic pain. Ms. Sowards also worked with Drs. Matt Huentelman and Candace Lewis on projects focused on early life stress and the epigenetic regulation of stress and immune related genes at the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix. In LTG, Ms. Sowards is working with Kevin Brown, Ph.D., senior investigator, to functionally analyze loci associated with melanoma in familial and genome-wide association studies.
Rohit Thakur, Ph.D., joined DCEG as a postdoctoral fellow in the Laboratory of Translational Genomics (LTG) and the Integrative Tumor Epidemiology Branch (ITEB) in March 2020. Prior to joining DCEG, Dr. Thakur earned his Ph.D. from University of Leeds, United Kingdom, where he focused on analyses of gene expression data from melanoma tumors. He subsequently spent a year as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, where he focused on elucidating biomarkers of response to immunotherapy in melanoma patients. Dr. Thakur is working with Kevin Brown, Ph.D., senior investigator, LTG, and Mitchell Machiela, Sc.D., M.P.H., Earl Stadtman Tenure Track Investigator, ITEB, on integrative genomic analyses of melanocyte and melanoma genomic and epigenomic datasets to understand genes, molecular mechanisms, and environmental interactions underlying melanoma susceptibility.
Jiyeon Choi Lab
Alyxandra Golden, B.A., joined the Laboratory of Translational Genomics (LTG) as a postbaccalaureate fellow in August 2020. She graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder in May 2020 with a degree in biochemistry and a minor in computer science. Her undergraduate research in the lab of Dr. Kristi Anseth focused on controlling the tissue regeneration-related secretory properties of mesenchymal stem cells through biomaterial scaffolds. In LTG, she will assist Jiyeon Choi, Ph.D., M.S., Earl Stadtman Tenure-track Investigator, with functional characterization of associated risk loci for lung cancer.
James Feng, B.S., joined the Laboratory of Translational Genomics (LTG) as a postbaccalaureate fellow in August 2020. Mr. Feng graduated with a dual bachelor of science degree in biology and evolutionary anthropology from Duke University in 2020. His undergraduate research focused on functionally annotating complex evolutionarily significant traits in wild mustard plant populations and determining their associated mechanisms. His research also included developing and evaluating radiopaque nanomaterials for surgical implants in cancer patients. In his new role with LTG, he will be working with Jiyeon Choi, Ph.D., Earl Stadtman Tenure-track Investigator, studying genetic susceptibility to melanoma and lung cancer through functional characterization of risk loci reported in GWAS studies.
Harsh Patel, Ph.D., joined the Laboratory of Translational Genomics (LTG) as a postdoctoral fellow in July 2020. Dr. Patel earned his Ph.D. in pharmacology from the State University of New York Upstate Medical University in June 2020 and his M.S. in pharmacology and toxicology from the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (NIPER – S.A.S. Nagar), India in 2009. Working with Dr. Ying Huang, his doctoral research was focused on investigating the regulatory mechanism and function of ECRG2 tumor suppressor in the context of DNA damage induced stress and microtubule dynamics. For his master’s research, he investigated the molecular mechanism of the chemopreventive potential of calorie restriction (CR) and nordihydroguaiaretic acid (NDGA) in a chemically induced breast cancer model. In LTG, Dr. Patel is working with Jiyeon Choi, Ph.D., M.S., Earl Stadtman investigator, on functional characterization of the genes and molecular pathways associated with genetic variants that contribute to risk of melanoma and lung cancer development.
Michael Dean Lab
Nina Rao, B.S., joined the Laboratory of Translational Genomics (LTG) in August 2017 as a predoctoral fellow through the NIH-Johns Hopkins Graduate Partnership Program. After graduating with a B.S. in biochemistry and molecular biology from the Pennsylvania State University, Ms. Rao spent a year as a postbaccalaureate fellow in the laboratory of Dan Fowler, M.D., Center for Cancer Research, NCI. There she studied the effects of rapamycin on T cell-based therapies for blood malignancies. Ms. Rao then joined the laboratory of Ludmila Prokunina-Olsson, Ph.D., Chief and senior investigator, LTG, as a postbaccalaureate fellow, where she worked for two years on the functional characterization of the novel interferon, IFN-λ4. As a current graduate student in LTG, Nina is mentored by Dr. Prokunina-Olsson and Michael Dean, Ph.D., senior investigator. She studies genetics and molecular epidemiology of bladder cancer, currently focusing on factors affecting APOBEC mutagenesis.
Nicole Rossi, B.S., joined the Laboratory of Translational Genomics (LTG) in August 2020 as a postbaccalaureate fellow. Ms. Rossi earned her Honors Bachelor of Science degree with distinction in biological sciences and a minor in psychology from the University of Delaware. As an undergraduate, she performed research in the lab of Dr. Melinda K. Duncan, studying the role of Lactase-Like (LCTL) gene and αVβ8 integrin protein in lens cell homeostasis and onset of Posterior Capsular Opacification (PCO) with the intention of improving cataract therapies. During her time with LTG, she will be working with Michael Dean, Ph.D., senior investigator, studying the implications of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection in promotion of tumorigenesis and evasion of immune therapies. They will be utilizing a variety of genetic tools and techniques to understand the life cycle of HPV and cervical cancer progression in order to develop more advanced therapies for women affected by the virus.
Ludmila Prokunina-Olsson Lab
Francine S. Baker, B. S., joined the Laboratory of Translational Genomics (LTG) as a postbaccalaureate fellow through the NCI Intramural Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences (NCI-iCURE) Program in June 2020. Ms. Baker graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park, School of Public Health in December of 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in public health science. Following her undergraduate studies, she completed a year as an NIH Academy Enrichment Program postbaccalaureate fellow in the laboratory of Stefan Ambs, PhD, MPH, Center for Cancer Research, NCI, where she investigated the role of cysteine metabolism on breast cancer biology. Currently, she is pursuing a master’s degree in biology with a concentration in cancer prevention and control form the University of the District of Columbia. In DCEG, Ms. Baker will be working with Ludmila Prokunina-Olsson, Ph.D., Chief and senior investigator, LTG, and Sam Mbulaiteye, senior investigator, Infections and Immunoepidemiology Branch, to explore the connection between Epstein Barr virus (EBV) infection and IFNL4, and its relation to health disparity.
Abdul Rouf Banday, Ph.D., joined the Laboratory of Translational Genomics (LTG) as a postdoctoral fellow in February 2014 and was promoted to research fellow in May 2016. Dr. Banday received his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from University of Kashmir, India, in 2006. He received his M.Sc. (2008) and Ph.D. (2012) degrees in biochemistry, with specialization in bioinformatics, from A.M. University, Aligarh, India. For his Ph.D., he used computational and molecular biology tools to study mechanisms of alternative splicing (AS) of mouse genome kinases. In 2009, he was awarded the Council of Scientific Industrial Research Junior Research Fellowship in India and a European Science Foundation summer school fellowship for training in bioinformatics at the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom. Prior to joining NCI, Dr. Banday worked as a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Dr. Rahul Kanadia at the University of Connecticut. He studied role of alternative splicing in mouse retinal development using both next-generation sequencing and cell biology approaches.
In LTG, Dr. Banday works with Ludmila Prokunina-Olsson, Ph.D., Chief and senior investigator. He is using computational and laboratory methods to explore underlying molecular mechanisms of genetic signals identified by GWAS for bladder cancer. During his time at NCI, Dr. Banday has received several awards including the NCI Director’s Innovation Award (career development), Fellows Award for Research Excellence (FARE), DCEG-FARE, AACR Scholar-in-Training Award, DCEG Intramural Research Award, and John Quale Travel Award from the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network.
Oscar Florez-Vargas, Ph.D., M.Sc., joined the Laboratory of Translational Genomics (LTG) as a postdoctoral fellow in October 2016. Dr. Florez-Vargas earned his Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Manchester, United Kingdom, in 2016, and his M.Sc. in biochemistry from the National University of Colombia in 2008. For his doctoral research, he developed computer-based strategies for reviewing biomedical scientific manuscript methods and predicting their reproducibility under the mentorship of Professors Andy Brass and Robert Stevens. His masters research focused on identifying microRNAs associated with pharmacologically-induced senescence in an in vitro model of melanoma. In LTG, Dr. Florez-Vargas is working with Ludmila Prokunina-Olsson, Ph.D., Chief and senior investigator, on multiple genomic regions that have been associated via genome-wide association studies with increased risk of several cancers. He is involved in computational analysis of genotype-phenotype relationships to further evaluate the contribution of specific genomic regions, genes, and genetic variants to cancer phenotypes. Prior to joining LTG, Dr. Florez-Vargas was involved as a researcher in a number of studies examining genetic associations with infectious diseases and toxicological exposures in Colombia.
Michelle Ho, Ph.D., joined the Laboratory of Translational Genomics (LTG) in November 2020 as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Ludmila Prokunina-Olsson, Ph.D., Chief and senior investigator. Dr. Ho earned her Ph.D. in biological sciences in 2020 from the City of Hope Irell & Manella Graduate School in Duarte, CA. Her previous research focused on the development of gene editing tools for various inherited disorders. Working with Drs. John Burnett and John Rossi, her doctoral research focused on developing methods to import CRISPR/Cas systems into mitochondria and optimizing CRISPR designs to target mutations in mitochondrial DNA. Her current work with Dr. Prokunina-Olsson focuses on using CRISPR-based methods to screen genetic risk variants and functionally characterize their relationships to bladder cancer development.
Brenen Papenberg, Ph.D., joined the Laboratory of Translational Genomics (LTG) as a postdoctoral fellow in August 2020. Dr. Papenberg earned his Ph.D. in cancer cell biology from West Virginia University, West Virginia, in 2020. For his doctoral research, he used bioinformatic approaches, cellular models, and molecular biology tools to: 1) describe a novel head and neck squamous cell carcinoma survival disparity in Appalachia; 2) identify large scale chromosomal alterations that correlate with smoking in head and neck cancer patients; and 3) investigate novel functions of commonly amplified transcripts in head and neck cancer and their potential role as competing endogenous RNA. In LTG, Dr. Papenberg is working with Ludmila Prokunina-Olsson, Ph.D., Chief and senior investigator. He is using computational and laboratory methods to investigate several genomic regions that are associated with increased risk of bladder cancer.
Tim Ring, B.S., joined the Laboratory of Translational Genomics (LTG) in June 2020 as a postbaccalaureate fellow in the laboratory of Ludmila Prokunina-Olsson, Ph.D., Chief and senior investigator. Mr. Ring earned his B.S. in biology of global health with a minor in history from Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. in 2020. His previous research experiences at Georgetown University focused on genetic and epigenetic underpinnings of egg diapause in the Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus. He first joined the Prokunina-Olsson lab in June of 2019 as a participant in the NIH Summer Internship Program (SIP), during which he worked on utilizing new CRISPR techniques to explore the relationship between viral infection and liver cancer development. His current work in the Prokunina-Olsson lab is focused on continuing CRISPR-based research into liver cancer as well as working to better characterize the novel interferon IFNL4 and its roles in chronic infection and cancer development.
Joselin Vargas joined the Laboratory of Translational Genomics (LTG) in June 2017 first as a summer intern through the NCI Introduction to Cancer Research Careers (ICRC) program, and then as a postbaccalaureate fellow in the laboratory of Ludmila Prokunina-Olsson, Ph.D., Chief and senior investigator. Ms. Vargas earned her B.S. in biology with a minor in leadership development from Stony Brook University, New York, in 2017. Working with Dr. Gerardo G. Mackenzie, she focused her undergraduate research on pancreatic cancer and performed in vitro testing of a novel drug alone and in combination with FDA-approved drugs. In 2014, she worked in the laboratory of Dr. Ruel Desamero, where she identified the molar extinction coefficient and emission of phenylalanine amino acid derivatives to access the role of aromatic residues in driving amyloid formation. In the Prokunina-Olsson lab, Ms. Vargas is exploring a novel interferon (IFNL4) and its association with infection and cancer.