Zubrod Memorial Lecture Program Spotlights Faculty and Young Investigators

Six physician-scientists were recognized for their contributions to cancer research and treatment as part of the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 18th Annual Zubrod Memorial Lecture and Sylvester Cancer Research Poster Session on May 19.

Sylvester Director Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., hosted the event, whose featured speaker was Carl H. June, M.D., the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies at the Perelman School of Medicine, and director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at the University of Pennsylvania.

June’s lecture was titled “Self-driving CARs: Safer Cancer Therapy?” He maintains a research laboratory that studies various mechanisms of lymphocyte activation that relate to immune tolerance and adoptive immunotherapy for cancer and chronic infection. In 2011, his research team published findings detailing a new therapy in which patients with refractory and relapsed chronic lymphocytic leukemia were treated with genetically engineered versions of their own T cells. The treatment has also been used, with promising results, to treat children with refractory acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

The Zubrod lecture has been held since 2000 to honor C. Gordon Zubrod, M.D., founding director of Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and a long-time Miller School faculty member. It has become a signature event for the cancer center, featuring world-class investigators.

The six faculty members who received awards were:

Basic Scientist of the Year
Ramin Shiekhattar, Ph.D., director of the Sylvester Cancer Epigenetics Program, chief of the Division of Cancer Genomics & Epigenetics, and professor in the Department of Human Genetics. Shiekhattar’s laboratory has made a number of important contributions over the past years in identifying and characterizing important mediators of epigenetic regulation and noncoding RNA processing that contribute to cancer development. The laboratory’s recent work has begun to explore a class of long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) that behave similarly to transcriptional enhancers.

Clinical Researcher of the Year
Breelyn A. Wilky, M.D., member of Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Hematology/Oncology. Wilky specializes in clinical and translational research for patients with bone and soft tissue sarcomas, with a focus in immunotherapy. She is the principal investigator for multiple immunotherapy clinical trials at Sylvester, including Phase I industry-sponsored studies of novel checkpoint inhibitors and vaccines for advanced solid tumors, as well as two investigator-initiated clinical trials investigating immunotherapy for sarcomas.

Community-based Researcher of the Year
Alberto J. Caban-Martinez, D.O., Ph.D., M.P.H., member of Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, assistant professor of Public Health Sciences, director of the Musculoskeletal Disorders and Occupational Health Lab, and deputy director of the M.D./M.P.H. Program.
Caban-Martinez’s research primarily examines the morbidity and mortality of workers, with specialty in workplace health and safety interventions.

Mentor of the Year – Junior Faculty
Nipun Merchant, M.D. vice chair of surgical oncology services, professor and chief of the Division of Surgical Oncology, and chief surgical officer and interim associate director of the Translational Research Program at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. Merchant is committed to student and resident education, and has been an inspirational mentor to many medical and graduate students, residents and junior faculty during their professional development.

Mentor of the Year – Trainees
Mark L. Gonzalgo, M.D., Ph.D., member of Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, professor and vice chairman of the Department of Urology, and director of the Urologic Oncology Fellowship Program. Gonzalgo has mentored numerous medical students, graduate students, residents, and fellows, many of whom have pursued careers in academic medicine.

Teacher of the Year
Pasquale Benedetto, M.D., member of Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and professor of medicine in the Division of Hematology/Oncology. Since arriving at the University of Miami in 1982, Benedetto has been actively involved in the educational mission of the University with fellows, residents, and medical students. In his role as attending physician, he has mentored internal medicine residents, and he recently assumed responsibility for the hematology-oncology curriculum for second-year medical students.

Winners in the Sylvester Cancer Research Poster Session were:

Basic Science
Graduate Student (tie)
Winner: Fiorella Magani, M.S.
Mentor: Kerry L. Burnstein, Ph.D.
Winner: Michael D. Birnbaum, B.S.
Mentor: Fangliang Zhang, Ph.D.

Post-doctoral Fellow
Winner: Jianping Li, M.D.
Mentor: Feng-Chun Yang, M.D., Ph.D.

Clinical Research
Winner: Joyson Kodiyan, M.D.
Mentor: Stephen Ramey, M.D.

Translational and Population-Based Research
Winner: Sabrina Copsel, Ph.D.
Mentor: Robert Levy, Ph.D.

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