The David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MITThe David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

National Cancer Institute Cancer Center

Science + Engineering... Conquering Cancer Together

Introducing the 2019-2020 Convergence Scholars

MIT Center for Precision Cancer Medicine scholars (left): Julia Froese, Yetis Gultekin, Jason Conage-Pough, Yi Wen Kong, Yulong Su, Mary Mu

Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine scholars (right): Coralie Backlund, Joelle Straehla, Ahmet Bekdemir, Khalil Ramadi, Derfogail Delcassian, Jeremy Li

The Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine and the MIT Center for Precision Cancer Medicine are pleased to announce the 2019-2020 class of Convergence Scholars.
The Convergence Scholars Program (CSP) provides postdoctoral trainees with opportunities to further their experiences and skills beyond the research laboratory. Scholars will learn more about science project development, policy, technology transfer, education and outreach, business and finances, industry, and the clinic.
At the core of CSP are activities to advance the scholars' communication and management skills, as well as to focus on the translational impact of their work. Participant activities and benefits include workshops on management and leadership, deeper engagement with industry, and professional development activities. Supplementing the primary benefit of leadership training and an enhanced perspective in science communication and management, postdoctoral trainees participating in the program will receive a stipend to support additional professional development activities.

The Convergence Scholars for this academic year are:

  • Coralie Backlund, Irvine Lab: Coralie is developing methods to deliver tumor specific peptides in combination with immune checkpoint blockade. As a secondary outcome of peptide vaccines, she is interested in how generating a primary immune response toward one peptide leads to the formation of T cell responses against other neoantigens presented by the tumor.
  • Ahmet Bekdemir, Bhatia Lab: Ahmet is researching how to enhance the efficiency of nanoparticles in cancer diagnostics by modulating their interaction with physiological molecules.
  • Jason Conage-Pough, White Lab: Jason is researching critical vulnerabilities in cancer cells in order to improve therapeutic outcomes. He is using mass spectrometry to characterize dysregulated signaling in cancer by measuring cell signaling networks and the adaptive response of cancer cells to therapy.
  • Derfogail Delcassian, Anderson Lab: Derfogail is engineering material platforms and artificial 3D lymph nodes for mechanical, biochemical and genetic manipulation of T cells. She uses these systems to probe the requirements for T cell activation, and develop technologies for controlled activation, differentiation and expansion of T cells for cancer immunotherapy applications.
  • Julia Froese, Hemann Lab: Julia is researching key mediators of resistance or sensitivity to CAR-T cell therapy in the context of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma using a whole genome CRISPR screening approach.
  • Yetis Gultekin, Vander Heiden Lab: Yetis is interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms that underlie the muscle wasting observed in patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). Using mouse models of the disease, he is testing the hypothesis that PDAC-derived secreted proteins or metabolites stimulate the autophagy-lysosome and the ubiquitin-proteasome systems in muscle cells to degrade proteins and cause muscle tissue loss.
  • Yi Wen Kong, Yaffe Lab: The focus of Yi’s research is to identify and target drug-resistant pathways in both cancer cells and the tumor microenvironment in order to enhance current front-line chemotherapy. In addition, to effectively target drug resistance pathway, she is also interested in developing and utilizing siRNA-delivery platforms to deliver siRNAs safely and efficiently to tumors.
  • Jeremy Li, Belcher Lab: Jeremy is developing a label-free noninvasive imaging tool that is able to visualize the lymphatic system and other biological tissues in order to track immune responses to tumors within just a few hours after injection. The approach integrates state-of-the-art machine learning algorithms to track subtle biological changes accurately in the context of cancer.
  • Mary Mu, Manalis Lab: Mary is developing a platform based on the suspended microchannel resonator technology developed in the Manalis lab that can measure the masses of cell clusters, tumor spheroids, and organoids. She is interested in then applying this platform to assess drug response of patient samples.
  • Khalil Ramadi, Langer Lab: Khalil’s research focuses on the gut-brain axis and enteric nervous system, which exerts an effect on virtually every bodily function including metabolism and immune modulation. It is also directly implicated in certain malignancies, including gastric and colorectal cancers.
  • Joelle Straehla, Hammond Lab: Joelle’s research centers on developing new technologies to improve drug delivery across the blood-brain barrier. Specifically, she is applying chemical engineering principles to design drug carriers for the treatment of brain tumors, combining targeted therapies into brain-penetrant nano carriers.
  • Yulong Su, Koehler Lab: In his research, Yulong is using the Koehler lab’s recently developed small chemical probe, KI-MS2-008, that can interrupt the protein network and functions associated with the oncogenic protein MYC. Yulong’s work focuses on studying the mechanisms underlying this discovery with the hope of developing novel strategies to target oncoproteins for degradation in cancer.