July 2019

Retreat Wrap-Up

Our 31st Annual Scientific Retreat set records for both abstract submissions and attendance, and I’m proud to report that more than 466 faculty, students, and guests joined us June 19-20 at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland. This year’s retreat included 189 poster presentations, 12 oral presentations, 11 awards, two lightning rounds, and one inspiring keynote address—not to mention the countless moments of connection among colleagues who share a profound commitment to the advancement of cancer research.

Arthur S. Levine, MD, kicked off the event with the Ronald Herberman Lectureship Keynote Address and shared insights from his more than 20 years as a dean, oncologist, and cancer researcher. This was Dr. Levine’s first appearance as our keynote speaker, and we wish him well as he transitions to new endeavors in Alzheimer’s disease research.

Michael Becich, MD, PhD, and Adrian V. Lee, PhD, co-chaired our first session, Data Sharing and Data Analysis, which examined data sharing approaches, lessons from TCGA and CCLE, hurdles and barriers in deciphering the breast cancer genome and transcriptome, and single cell transcriptomics in the human immune tumor microenvironment.

Linda Robertson, RN, MSN, DrPH, and Margaret Rosenzweig, PhD, co-chaired Addressing Catchment Area (Western Pennsylvania) Cancer Risks, in which our faculty discussed the link between radon and cancer risks, the e-cigarette epidemic, the role of obesity in lung cancer, and system- and policy-level disparities in colorectal cancer screenings.

Our second day began with our annual award presentations, and I’d like to thank all our poster presenters and nominees for Junior Scholar Awards. Competition is always fierce, and this year was certainly no exception. Senior faculty judged an impressive collection of poster presentations by our postdoctoral associates and lab members, and I’m proud to share that our winners included:

Basic Science Cancer Research

  • 1st Place Award – Samantha Sanford, BS (Graduate Student Researcher – Dr. Patricia Opresko’s Lab)
  • 2nd Place Award – Kristen DePeaux, BS (Graduate Student Researcher – Dr. Greg Delgoffe’s Lab)

Pre-Clinical Cancer Research

  • 1st Place Award – Ghanshyam Yadav, PhD (Postdoctoral Associate – Dr. Udai Kammula’s Lab)
  • 2nd Place Award – Chigozirim Ekeke, MD (Postdoctoral Scholar – Dr. Rajeev Dhupar’s Lab)

Clinical Cancer Research

  • 1st Place Award – Brian Kiesel, MS (Graduate Student Researcher – Dr. Jan Beumer’s Lab)
  • 2nd Place Award – Chaoyan Kuang, MD, PhD (Resident – Dr. Lin Zhang’s Lab)

Population Sciences Cancer Research

  • 1st Place Award – Michaela Danko, BD, BA (Lab Staff – Dr. Carissa Low’s Lab)
  • 2nd Place Award – Claire Thomas, MPH (PhD Student – Dr. Jian-Min Yuan’s Lab)

Our Junior Scholar Awards recognize 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. This year’s recipients include:

  • Junior Scholar Award for Basic Science Research: Lan Coffman, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology
  • Junior Scholar Award for Clinical Cancer Research: Yana Najjar, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology
  • Junior Scholar Award for Population Sciences Cancer Research: Tobacco Implications and Next Steps: Kar-Hai Chu, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Pediatrics, and Public Health Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health

Christopher Bakkenist, PhD, and Leisha Emens, MD, PhD, co-chaired our final session, Cancer Immunotherapy Intersections, where we explored alternative checkpoints, the role of metabolism in response to anti-PD1 immunotherapy in advanced melanoma, TIL therapy for solid tumors, and chemotherapy and PD-L1 blockade for triple negative breast cancer.

Once again, I’d like to thank everyone who helped make the retreat a success. I’m sure our attendees would agree that the months of planning are well worth the effort, and we look forward to another successful retreat next year.


Robert L. Ferris, MD, PhD