Speakers


Marcel van den Brink, MD, PhD

Dr. van den Brink is a physician scientist and medical oncologist who performs both laboratory and clinical research related to allogeneic bone marrow transplantation (BMT) and immuno-oncology. He is the Head of the Division of Hematologic Malignancies at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) and holds a joint appointment in the Immunology and Transplantation Program of the Sloan Kettering Institute. He is the Co-Director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at MSKCC and Chairman of the Board of DKMS, an international nonprofit organization devoted to bone marrow donor registration. As a clinical scientist, he is involved in immunotherapeutic trials of cytokines and cell therapies for patients with hematologic malignancies. His laboratory is devoted to the immunology of BMT and he studies immune reconstitution, pathophysiology of graft-versus-host disease, the intestinal microbiota, and chimeric antigen receptor T cells in patients and preclinical models. Both as a Division Head and a laboratory Principal Investigator, he mentors junior faculty members, hematology oncology fellows, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and undergraduate students. 


Golnaz Vahedi, PhD

Dr. Vahedi is an Assistant Professor of Genetics at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania. Golnaz studied Electrical Engineering at Sharif University of Technology in Iran and received her Ph.D. at Texas A&M University. She then joined the laboratory of Dr. John O’Shea at the NIH as a postdoctoral fellow to study the epigenomic regulation of T cells. It was in the O’Shea lab that she found studying the epigenome is similar to dissecting electrical circuits. As an independent investigator, she uses systems-based approaches to understand molecular details of gene regulation in the immune system. She is the recipient of a number of awards including the NIH Director’s Award (twice), NIAID K22 Career Transition Award, Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Award, W. W. Smith Charitable Trust, and Burroughs Wellcome Fund. She serves on the advisory boards of Cell Press journal Immunity and Science Immunology.


Siddharth Balanchandran, PhD

Dr. Balachandran obtained his Ph.D. from Emory University in 2001, after which he did a postdoc with Glen Barber at the University of Miami. He then joined the Fox Chase Cancer Center as an Assistant Professor in 2007, and he is currently a Full Professor there. His lab is interested in understanding cell death signaling mechanisms during viral and microbial infections, and in exploiting these mechanisms for the treatment of human disease, whether infectious, inflammatory, or malignant.


Gregory Sonnenberg, PhD

Gregory F. Sonnenberg is an Associate Professor of Microbiology & Immunology at Weill Cornell Medicine, Cornell University. He obtained his Ph.D. in Immunology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2011 and was recipient of a NIH Director’s Early Independent Award in 2012, permitting the establishment of the Sonnenberg Laboratory. He was recruited to Weill Cornell Medicine in 2014 and currently holds primary appointments in the Department of Medicine and Division of Gastroenterology, the Department of Microbiology & Immunology, and the Jill Robert’s Institute for Research in Inflammatory Bowel Disease. 

The focus and long-term research goals of the Sonnenberg Laboratory are to interrogate the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which the mammalian immune system controls tissue homeostasis, immunity, inflammation and cancer. This research thus far has defined numerous novel functions for innate lymphoid cells, populations of dendritic cells and emerging cytokine networks in controlling states of health and disease. Dr. Sonnenberg has published over 50 peer-reviewed primary and review papers and is funded by the NIH and private foundations. He is also been a recipient of the Searle Scholar Award, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Investigator in the Pathogenesis of Infectious Disease Award, and the Caner Research Institute Lloyd J. Old STAR Award. 

 


Elham Azizi, PhD

Dr. Azizi completed her postdoctoral training in the Dana Pe’er Lab at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Columbia University. She received a PhD in Bioinformatics from Boston University, an MS degree in Electrical Engineering from Boston University, and a BS in Electrical Engineering from Sharif University of Technology.  She joined the faculty of Columbia Biomedical Engineering and Irving Institute of Cancer Dynamics in 2020. She is also affiliated with the Department of Computer Science, Data Science Institute, and the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center. Her multidisciplinary research utilizes novel machine learning techniques and single-cell genomic technologies to study the dynamics and circuitry of cells in the tumor microenvironment. She is a recipient of the NIH NCI Pathway to Independence Award, the Tri-Institutional Breakout Prize for Junior Investigators, and an American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellowship.


John Elrod, PhD

Dr. Elrod is an Associate Professor in the Center for Translational Medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University where he is the Director of Research & Development. John received his Ph.D. from Albert Einstein College of Medicine where he was the first to report the cytoprotective mechanisms of endogenous hydrogen sulfide signaling in the lab of Dr. David Lefer. He then trained in molecular biology under Howard Hughes Investigator, Dr. Jeff Molkentin, at Cincinnati Children's Hospital as an NIH-funded postdoctoral fellow. His lab is exploring mitochondrial biology with a therapeutic focus on heart failure, fibrosis and neurodegeneration and has made seminal discoveries in the field of mitochondrial calcium exchange.


Marco Ruella, MD

Dr. Ruella’s laboratory focuses on the study of the mechanisms of relapse after chimeric antigen receptor T cell (CART) immunotherapy with the goal of rationally designing innovative next-generation immunotherapies for relapsing/refractory leukemia and lymphoma. 

Dr. Marco Ruella obtained his medical degree with high honors and completed his specialization in clinical hematology at the University of Torino, Italy. He was attending physician at the Hematology and Cell Therapy Division of the Mauriziano Hospital and was an Instructor at the Biotechnology School at the University of Torino. From 2012, he was a Post-doctoral Fellow and then an Instructor at the University of Pennsylvania in the Center for Cellular immunotherapies (Drs. June and Gill). From 2017 to 2018 he served as Associate Director of Dr. June’s laboratory. In 2018, Dr. Ruella was appointed Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology/Oncology and the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies and Scientific Director of the Lymphoma Program at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Ruella was awarded the inaugural SITC EMD-Serono Cancer Immunotherapy Clinical Fellowship (2014), the AACR-BMS Oncology Fellowship in Clinical Cancer Research (2015), the ASH Scholar Award (2016), an NIH K99-R00 award (2017), the “Paola Campese” Award Leukemia Research (2017), the Cancer Support Community Award (2018), the 2018 ASH Joanne Levy, MD, Memorial Award for Outstanding Achievement and more recently the Gilead Sciences Research Scholar in Hematology/Oncology and the Gabrielle’s Angel Foundation Award (2020). Dr. Ruella is the author of numerous peer-reviewed publications on targeted immunotherapies for hematological cancers and is an inventor in several patents on CART therapy.

Since 2019, Dr. Ruella serves as the co-leader for Cancer for the Institute for Immunology (IFI) with Dr. Ivan Maillard.


Kathryn Wellen, PhD

Dr. Wellen received her PhD from Harvard University, working with Gökhan S. Hotamisligil, studying the role of inflammation in metabolic diseases.  She performed her postdoctoral work, focusing on cancer cell metabolism and metabolic signaling with Craig B. Thompson at the University of Pennsylvania.  In 2011, Dr. Wellen joined the Department of Cancer Biology at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.  She was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure in 2017.  Her honors include selection as a Forbeck Scholar and a Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences.  Her lab is broadly interested in links between cellular metabolism, signaling, and gene regulation in metabolic diseases and cancer.


Richard Pomerantz, PhD

Dr. Pomerantz is an Associate Professor Dept Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at  Thomas Jefferson University, Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center. My laboratory is primarily interested in understanding how human DNA repair factors function and contribute to genome integrity and instability in normal and cancer cells, respectively. Current areas of interest include investigating mutagenic double-strand break repair pathways, such as alternative end-joining which contributes to genome instability and promotes the proliferation of cancer cells that are mutated in BRCA1/2. Because backup double-strand break repair pathways are essential for the proliferation of BRCA deficient cancer cells, we are interested in developing factors that promote these pathways as anti-cancer drug targets. For example, we aim to develop inhibitors of DNA polymerase theta for targeting BRCA deficient cancers for killing, which is important for the development of personalized medicine in breast, ovarian and other cancers defective in homology-directed repair including leukemias. 


Benjamin Izar, MD, PhD

Physician-scientist Ben Izar studies the biology of metastatic niches and uses multifaceted single-cell technologies to study immune/tumor interactions to dissect and overcome drug resistance. Ben obtained his MD/PhD in Germany and completed his clinical training in Internal Medicine and Oncology at Mass. General Hospital and BIDMC at Harvard Medical School before joining as faculty at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in 2017. He established his independent laboratory program at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) in 2019, and currently also serves as Director of the Human Immune Monitoring Core at CUMC. He is a member of the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center, The Columbia Center for Translational Immunology and the Program for Mathematical Genomics. He is the recipient of multiple national awards, including a NIH/NCI K08 Award, Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award for Medical Scientists Abeloff V Foundation Scholar Award, and was selected as a NextGen Star of the American Association for Cancer Research (2019).


Adolfo Ferrando, MD, PhD

Adolfo Ferrando, M.D, Ph.D. is a Professor of Pediatrics at the Institute for Cancer Genetics, Columbia University in New York. His research interest focus on the study of the genetics and  mechanisms of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).  Dr. Ferrando received his M.D. in 1994 and his Ph.D. in 1999 from the University of Oviedo in  Spain. He was a Hematology resident at Asturias Central Hospital from 1995 to 1999 and a postdoctoral researcher first and then Instructor at Dana Farber Cancer Research Institute in Boston from 1999 to 2004. Dr. Ferrando joined the faculty of the Institute for Cancer Genetics in 2005 where he has developed a highly active research program that combines genomics, biochemical, genetic and experimental therapeutics approaches towards the identification of novel therapies for the treatment of high-risk leukemias and lymphomas. His laboratory has played major roles in the functional analysis of oncogenic NOTCH1 (PNAS 2006; Nat Med 2007, PNAS 2009; Nat Med 2009, Nat Med 2015, PNAS 2017, Cancer Discov 2019) and the TLX1 and TLX3 oncogenes (Nat Med 2010, Nat Med 2012) in the pathogenesis of T-ALL. In addition, he has identified and functionally characterized numerous genes somatically mutated in ALL at diagnosis [ PTEN (Nat Med 2007, Cancer Cell 2013, Nat Med 2014), WT1 (Blood 2009), PHF6 (Nat Genet 2010, Cancer Disc 2018), BCL11B (Nat Med 2010), ETV6 (J Exp Med 2011), EZH2 (Nat Med 2012b)] and at relapse [NT5C2 (Nat Med 2013, PNAS 2016, Nature 2018, Cancer Cell 2018, Nat Cancer 2020] as well as in peripheral T-cell lymphomas (Nat Genet 2014, Nat Genet 2015, PNAS 2017, Nat Cancer 2021). At Columbia he was promoted to Associate professor with tenure in 2012 and to the rank of Professor in 2016, and has been distinguished with the Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research Award and the Harold & Golden Lamport Research Award. He has also been the recipient of multiple other honors, including the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Scholar Award, the Pershing Square Sohn Prize for Young Investigators in Cancer Research, the V Diz Pintado Spanish National Cancer Research Prize and the Damesheck Prize from the American Society of Hematology. His work has been funded without interruption by the NIH since 2006 and he is currently the recipient of an OutstandingInvestigator R35 award from the NCI and additional federal and private research grants. He is an elected member the American Society of Clinical Investigation and the Association of American Physicians and currently serves in the editorial board of Leukemia, Blood Cancer Discovery and Genes and Development.