35th Annual UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Scientific Retreat Recap

The 35th Annual UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Scientific Retreat was held September 26-27, 2023. The event consisted of lectures, including the Director’s Annual State of the Cancer Center, a shark tank-style minnow competition, and poster presentations.

Featured Lectures

Ronald B. Herberman, MD, Lectureship

Designing Effective T Cell Therapy for Solid Tumors
George Coukos, MD, PhD
Director, Department of Oncology, Lausanne University Hospital & University of Lausanne
Chief, Service of Immuno-Oncology, Lausanne University Hospital
Director, Lausanne Branch, Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research

Maryann Donovan, PhD, MPH, Lectureship

Following the Question
Christine Kasper, PhD, RN, FAAN, FASCM
Dean and Professor
University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing

Emerging Scholar Awardees 

The UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Emerging Scholar Award recognizes outstanding, novel, and significant cancer research that has led to important contributions to the fields of basic cancer research, translational cancer research, cancer diagnosis, prevention of cancer, and cancer treatment. See the three winners below.


Benjamin Nacev, MD, PhD
Dr. Nacev is assistant professor in the Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology. His work focuses on understanding how cancer-associated genetic alterations in chromatin regulators promote cancer and to leverage this understanding to advance new therapeutic approaches in the clinic.

Population Science

Marci Nilsen, PhD, RN, CHPN
Dr. Nilsen is assistant professor in the School of Nursing with a secondary appointment in the Department of Otolaryngology. Her work focuses on identification, treatment, and development of interventions focused on the management of symptoms and treatment-related effects in head and neck cancer survivors.  

Basic Science

Marlies Meisel, PhD
Dr. Meisel is assistant professor in the Department of Immunology. Her work revolves around defining how gut microbiota, environmental and metabolic factors, and the genetics impact systemic immunity during health and complex diseases.

Poster Award Winners

Basic Science

1st Place — Bashir Lawal, Cancer Biology Program
Functional characterization of EPHA3 exon 4-5 duplication (EPHA3d4-5) in high-grade serous carcinoma progression, and recurrence

 2nd Place — Yifei Wang, Cancer Biology Program
Genome-wide CRISPRa screening to functionalize lncRNAs in CDK4/6 inhibitor response

Clinical/Translation or Population Science

1st Place — Mengtao Qin, Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy Program
AMPKγ2 Overexpression Protects CD19-CAR T Cells From Metabolic Insults

2nd Place — Benjamin Warner, Cancer Virology Program
Deletion of the Gly/Ala repeat from Epstein-Barr virus nuclear antigen 1 (EBNA1) improves specificity of the EBNA1 IgA biomarker for nasopharyngeal carcinoma risk prediction

Minnow Tank Competition

The Minnow Tank presentations and awards recognize innovative research by UPMC Hillman Cancer Center trainees and their principal investigators. The panel of judges chose Ashlyn Rickard, PhD, and Micah K. Harris, MD, to receive the official awards for additional funding and collaborative development support. See list of presenters and their research.

Use of machine learning algorithms to prospectively identify patients with metastatic breast cancer at risk for poor quality end of life care
Rachel Brazee, PhD, RN
Postdoctoral Fellow
Mentors: Dr. Rosenzweig and Dr. Lee

Metabolic control of tRNA-mediated translational reprogramming in glioblastoma
Tinting Duan, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow
Rich Lab

Circulating Tumor DNA from Surgical Drain Fluid as an Early Marker of Residual Disease in HPV (-) Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Micah K. Harris, MD
PGY-1 UPMC Otolaryngology
Mentor: Dr. Zevallos

Developing an orthotopic autochthonous mouse model of oropharyngeal cancer using dual recombinase technology with photoactivatable Cre recombinase
Ashlyn Rickard, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow
Mowery Lab

TLSs in Cancer: Providing a (Micro)environment for T cells to WFH
Mary Melissa Roland, PhD
Postdoctoral Associate
Joglekar Lab

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