About the winners:


Carolina Soto

Hometown: Crystal Lake, IL
Education: BS, Molecular and Cellular Biology & Chemistry, UI Urbana-Champaign
Currently: MD/PhD student, Neuroscience, UI Urbana-Champaign
Advisor: Edward Roy, PhD 
Cancer Research Statement: Cancer research is an amazingly exciting field with many groundbreaking discoveries happening recently. I am very excited to be working towards new cancer therapies and being part of a community working towards improving cancer outcomes.


Elizabeth Parkinson

Hometown: Greenville, MS. 
Education: BS, Chemistry, Rhodes College
Currently: PhD student. Chemistry (Chemical Biology), UI Urbana-Champaign
Advisor: Paul Hergenrother, PhD
Cancer Research statement: My cancer research focuses on developing targeted therapies. My current research focuses on targetinig the enzyme NQO1 as an anticancer strategy. NQO1 is a two electron reductase which is often overexpressed in many cancer types. A small molecule which is bioactivated by NQO1 to a more toxic species could serve as a novel targeted anticancer therapy. Recently, the Hergenrother lab has discovered such a molecule, deoxynyboquinone (DNQ) which is bioactivated by NQO1 causing death of the cancer cell by redox cycling. My work has focused on confirming NQO1 as the target of DNQ through in silico, in vitro, as well as tissue culture models. Additionally, I have been involved in the synthesis of DNQ as well as preliminary mouse models demonstrating the efficacy of DNQ in vivo.


Yu Zheng

Hometown: Shanghai, China
Education: Biological Science, Fudan University, Shanghai, China
Currently: Ph.D. student, Cancer and Molecular Genetics, UIC College of Medicine
Advisor: Angela Tyner, PhD
Cancer research statement: My thesis has centered on investigating the role of the non-receptor tyrosine kinase PTK6 in prostate tumorigenesis and metastasis. My work revealed an oncogenic function of PTK6 in prostate carcinoma by identifying novel PTK6 substrates and characterizing different molecular pathways regulated by PTK6.

Dana Felice, PhD

Hometown: Hewitt, NJ
Education: BS, Environmental Biology, Marist College
PhD, Environmental Toxicology (minors: Cancer Biology and Nutrition), Cornell University
Currently: Postdoctoral Fellow, UIC College of Medicine
Mentor: Jonna Frasor, PhD
Cancer Research Statement: As a fellow in the lab of Dr. Jonna Frasor, I am investigating the interplay between estrogen and growth hormone (GH) in human breast cancer, and have found that GH acts in an IGF-I independent manner to potentiate estrogen-stimulated breast cancer cell proliferation. Interestingly, my data show that GH can bypass IGF-I receptor inhibition to do so. This has important clinical implications for women who may be directed toward anti-IGF-I therapies, since blocking the IGF-I receptor results in increased circulating levels of GH. Thus, regarding GH and IGF-I as having both dependent and distinct functions in breast cancer biology, and continuing to investigate this critical issue, will open new avenues for effective therapeutic strategies.

Dragana Kopanja, PhD

Hometown: Novi Sad, Serbia
Education: Biology, University of Novi Sad, Serbia
PhD, Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, UIC College of Medicine
Currently: Postdoctoral Fellow, UIC College of Medicine
Mentor: Pradip Raychaudhuri, PhD
Cancer Research Statement: I have been studying transcription factor FoxM1 and its role in liver cancer and liver cancer stem cells. I obtained data that clearly demonstrate correlation of FoxM1 expression and expression of “stemness genes” in different human hepatocellular carcinoma cell lines. Interestingly, I showed that depletion of FoxM1 in human HCC lines causes a selective reduction in the population of the CD90+ HCSCs due to discriminatory apoptosis. Finally, I demonstrated that HCC lines with silenced FoxM1 exhibited decreased tumor formation potential compared to the controls when injected subcutaneously in nude mice. These studies have exciting implications in further considerations of FoxM1 as a target of HCC therapy.

Michael Walsh, PhD

Hometown: Waterfoot, England.
Education: Biomedical Sciences, Lancaster University, UK
PhD, Biological Sciences, Lancaster University, UK
Currently: Postdoctoral Researcher at the Beckman Institute
Mentor: Rohit Bhargava
Cancer Research Statement: My research has been focused on developing chemical imaging methodologies towards improving early cancer detection and prognosis. This work has led to developing novel high-resolution label-free imaging modalities and computational approaches that can aid pathologists in assessing tissue biopsies. This work has led to developing spectroscopic approaches that can allow for the comprehensive histological segmentation of cell types in tissues from a single unstained tissue section in an entirely non-perturbing fashion. Recent work published in Nature Methods demonstrated the first ever high resolution infrared images of human tissue that could permit the visualization and chemical characterization of important cell types and tissue structures in breast and prostate tissue. This research has been driven by close collaboration with the Department of Pathology at UIC to identify important areas in cancer diagnosis where chemical imaging can provide useful information that can ultimately improve patient care.