UF Health Cancer Center selects 2023-25 cohort of team-based cancer research trainees

The University of Florida Health Cancer Center is pleased to announce the four teams of pre- and postdoctoral fellows who will engage in two-year transdisciplinary cancer research projects through its Team-based Interdisciplinary Cancer Research Training (TICaRT) Program.

Funded through the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the innovative program provides UF trainees from a broad range of disciplines the opportunity to develop interdisciplinary skills in cancer research and gain experience with transdisciplinary approaches.

The premise of the program is that the next generation of cancer researchers will require expertise in interdisciplinary approaches in a team-based setting to address the increasing complexities of cancer and become successful independent investigators.

The 2023-25 cohort was selected from a highly competitive pool of applicants. Trainees come from four UF colleges, representing basic science, clinical and translational research, and population science. They will spend two years in the program, working as teams on joint projects. The program features a near-peer mentoring approach, pairing up trainees at similar levels in their training to provide valuable mentorship and collaboration opportunities.

“Our goal is to provide an innovative cancer research team experience that emphasizes the development of relationships across scientific disciplines, departments and colleges,” said Dietmar Siemann, Ph.D., principal investigator of the NCI-supported T32 training grant that funds the team-based training program and associate director for education and training at the Cancer Center. “We want to provide a program that seeks to lead to significant advances in our fundamental understanding of cancer and its clinical management.”

This year’s trainees, who were introduced during the Cancer Center’s annual TICaRT Research Symposium on Aug 10., will tackle a wide range of cancer research projects. Researchers from pediatric infectious diseases are teaming up with medicinal chemists to study how small molecules may be used as anti-cancer drugs. Experts in physical therapy and cancer biology are joining forces to advance compounds to reverse cancer cachexia, a complication involving muscle wasting.

Another project brings together analytical chemists and surgical oncologists to research how a microrobotic chip device can help detect biomarkers in pancreatic cancer. And epidemiologists and medicinal chemists are pooling their expertise to optimize assessment of lung cancer risk.

The TICaRT program began in 2021 when Siemann received the T32 training grant from the NCI. It is the only NCI-funded T32 program in the country devoted to team-based training and near-peer mentoring.

The program draws students from 11 Ph.D. programs and nine colleges across the biomedical spectrum. A cohesive group of 37 basic science and clinical faculty from 22 departments provides oversight and mentorship.

The first cohort of four teams, which began in August 2021 and completed the program this month, has had numerous accomplishments, including two predoctoral awards, a book chapter and 11 publications to date. One predoctoral fellow has since completed doctoral training and accepted a position as a field application scientist for Spectral Instruments, an imaging technology company in San Diego, California. Another postdoctoral fellow was recently appointed as a senior program director focused on health equity with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Congratulations to the 2023-25 cohort!

Team Project: Small molecules and PROTACs for modulation of Epstein-Barr virus lytic reactivation

Beth Rousseau, Ph.D., left, and Alexis Smith

Beth Rousseau, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow
Mentor: Sumita Bhaduri-McIntosh, M.D., Ph.D., Pediatrics-Infectious Diseases
Dissertation Project: Discovering pro-lytic mechanisms to trigger lysis of Epstein-Barr virus cancer cells

Alexis Smith, Predoctoral Fellow
Mentor: Guangrong Zheng, Ph.D., Pharmaceutical Sciences-Medicinal Chemistry
Dissertation Project: Development of potent METTL3 PROTAC degraders for treatment of AML

Team Project: Utilizing proteolysis targeting chimeras against BCL-2 and BCL-X for clearing senescent cells to reverse therapy induced cachexia

Jeremy Ducharme, Ph.D., and Madison Carelock

Jeremy Ducharme, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow
Mentor: Andrew Judge, Ph.D., Physical Therapy
Dissertation Project: Development of Novel Therapeutics for Cancer Cachexia

Madison Carelock, Predoctoral Fellow
Mentor: Weizhou Zhang, Ph.D., Biomedical Sciences-Cancer Biology
Research Project: Dissecting the lineage-specific role of BCL-XL in breast cancer metastasis

Team Project: Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma Biomarker Detection/Validation via Intelligent Microrobotic Chip Device

Nathan Hart and Jordan McKean, M.D.

Nathan Hart, Predoctoral Fellow
Mentor: Yong Zeng, Ph.D., Analytical Chemistry
Dissertation Project: CRISPR-based Biosensing of Target MiRNAs Using Micro-scale Pneumatic Actuator

Jordan McKean, M.D., Postdoctoral Fellow
Mentor: Steven Hughes, M.D., General Surgery

Team Project: Optimizing lung cancer risk assessment: from bench to trench

Meghann Wheeler, left, and Breanne Freeman

Meghann Wheeler, Predoctoral Fellow
Mentor: Dejana Braithwaite, Ph.D., Epidemiology
Dissertation Project: Evaluating proteomic and metabolomic blood-based biomarkers for use in lung cancer risk assessment

Breanne Freeman, Predoctoral Fellow
Mentor: Chengguo Xing, Ph.D., Pharmaceutical Sciences-Medicinal Chemistry
Research Project: Developing lung carcinogenesis biomarkers and cancer risk predictive score on a tobacco smoke-induced lung carcinogenesis A/J mouse cohort

Photos: 2023 TICaRT Research Symposium

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