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Current Fellows in the Laboratory of Translational Genomics

Meet current fellows in the Laboratory of Translational Genomics and learn more about LTG research training opportunities.

Laufey Amundadottir Lab

Erin Char, B.A. – Postbaccalaureate Fellow

Portrait of Erin Char

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. – Postdoctoral Fellow

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.

Scientific Publications - Katelyn Connelly

Aidan O’Brien, M.Pharm., M.Sc. – Predoctoral Fellow

Portrait of Aidan O'Brien

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. - Postdoctoral Fellow

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, Chinese Academy of Sciences (BIG, CAS) in 2014, and then stayed in BIG as assistant investigator until July 2017. While at BIG, he became skilled at the use of next-generation sequencing, single-molecule real-time sequencing technology (SMRT), and whole genome methylome sequencing. His research focused on pathogenic mechanisms of human infectious disease with pan-genome and epigenetic regulation analysis. His doctoral research focused primarily on whole genome sequencing (WGS) and resequencing analysis of industrial fungus and biomedical minipigs. In DCEG, he is studying inherited predisposition to pancreatic cancer and digging out common and rare risk variants identified by genome-wide association studies, sequence-based (WGS and transcriptome/TWAS) and other “Omic” technologies.

Scientific Publications - Jun Zhong

Kevin Brown Lab

Karen Funderburk, M.S. – Postbaccalaureate Fellow

Portrait of Karen Funderburk

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. 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 will be using bioinformatic tools to identify functional variants of melanoma risk loci reported in genome-wide association studies.

Scientific Publications – Karen Funderburk

Rebecca Hennessey, Ph.D. – Postdoctoral Fellow

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.

Scientific Publications – Rebecca Hennessey

Hyunkyung Kong, Ph.D. – Postdoctoral Fellow

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.

Scientific Publications - Hyunkyung Kong

Hayley A. Sowards, B.S. – Postbaccalaureate Fellow

Portrait of Hayley Sowards

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.

Scientific Publications - Hayley A. Sowards

Rohit Thakur, Ph.D. – Postdoctoral Fellow

Portrait of Rohit Thakur

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.

Scientific Publications - Rohit Thakur

Jiyeon Choi Lab

Alyxandra Golden, B.A. – Postbaccalaureate Fellow

Portrait of Alyxandra Golden

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.

Scientific Publications - Alyxandra Golden

Harsh Patel, Ph.D. – Postdoctoral Fellow

Portrait of Harsh Patel

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.

Scientific Publications - Harsh Patel

Explore fellowship opportunities in a new research group studying genetic susceptibility to common cancers including melanoma and lung cancer:

Bioinformatics for Functional Genomics and Population Genetics - Postdoctoral Fellowship

Functional Genomics, Genetic Susceptibility to Lung Cancer and Melanoma - Postdoctoral Fellowship

Michael Dean Lab

Nina Rao, B.S. – Predoctoral Fellow

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.

Ludmila Prokunina-Olsson Lab

Francine S. Baker, B. S. – Postbaccalaureate Fellow

Portrait of Francine Baker

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. – Research Fellow

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.

Scientific Publications - Abdul Rouf Banday

Oscar Florez-Vargas, Ph.D., M.Sc. – Postdoctoral Fellow

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.

Scientific Publications-Oscar Florez-Vargas

Timothy Ring, B.S. – Postbaccalaureate Fellow

Portrait of Tim Ring

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, B.S. – Postbaccalaureate Fellow

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.