MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth
Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

2021 Predoctoral Trainees


Joseph Barnes

Mentor: Jian Hu, PhD

Department: Cancer Biology 

Project Title: Targeting the Qki-PPARβ/δ-RXRα  Axis as an Approach to Rescue Fatty Acid Metabolism in  Adrenoleukodystrophy.

"One of my goals as an MD/PhD trainee is to learn and master the competences and skillset necessary for discerning relevant discoveries founded on good science and to translate them to the clinic in order to make a  meaningful impact on any given patient population. The TL1 training program provides me with an excellent opportunity to engage in a learning experience that matches perfectly with these aims, setting me further on the trajectory of becoming the proficient and well-prepared physician-scientist I have set out to be." 


Caitlynn Barrows

Mentors: Simon Young DDS, MD, PhD and Mary C. Farach-Carson, PhD

Department: Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and Diagnostic & Biomedical Sciences

Project Title: Elucidating the Role of Immune Cells on Salivary Gland Dysfunction in a 3D Model of Sjogren's Syndrome.

"I have always had an interest in translational research and finding ways to bring research to the clinic. This program provides additional training, courses and mentorship to help better accomplish my goal of bringing discoveries from the bench to the clinic while also providing a better understanding of patient's needs. I hope this program will allow me to tailor my research to benefit patients with Sjogren's Syndrome."

Sharvari Dharmaiah

Sharvari Dharmaiah, MS

Mentor name: Jason T Huse, MD, PhD

Department: Translational Molecular Pathology

Project Title: Characterizing and targeting the genomic consequences of ATRX deficiency in cancer.

"My biggest goal when I started my PhD training was to find translational research opportunities that would help mitigate the gap between basic science and medicine. The TL1 training program, with its interdisciplinary curriculum and clinical and community engagements, gives me the rare opportunity to translate my observations at the bedside to meaningful findings at the bench that will advance our current understanding of fatal diseases, like ATRX-deficient cancers. I am confident that the TL1 program will give me the exceptional tools, guidance, and network necessary to develop a solid foundation in translational research that will help me succeed during my PhD training and at each step beyond."


Mary Gronberg, MS

Mentor name: Laurence Court, PhD

Department: Radiation Physics

Project Title: Development of Artificial Intelligence-Based Tools for Expert Review of Radiotherapy Treatment Plans.

"My long-term career goal is to be a clinical medical physicist and translational scientist with a research focus on using artificial intelligence to improve the care of cancer patients through improved radiation treatment planning. The TL1 program provides me with clinical shadowing, didactic coursework, and community engagement opportunities to foster a translational mindset, which will be invaluable throughout my career as I work to develop new technologies and tools and effectively translate them into the clinic."


Renato Guerrieri

Mentor: Michael Davies, MD, PhD

Department: Melanoma Medical Oncology

Project Title: Regulation of the Immune Microenvironment and Immunotherapy Resistance by Oxidative Phosphorylation in Melanoma Brain Metastases

"I decided to pursue the TL1 program because it offers an effective training environment for becoming a clinically-minded scientist by supporting my proposed PhD thesis research as well as a clinical preceptorship in the exact medical field where my project will make an impact."


Anita Kaw

Mentor: Dianna Milewicz, MD, PhD

Department: Internal Medicine - Medical Genetics

Project Title: Characterization of Vascular Pathology in ACTA2 R179C Mutant Mouse Model

"This program gives me the opportunity to integrate clinical knowledge with basic research, in addition to patient advocacy and community engagement."


Kyle LaBella

Mentor: Ronald DePinho, MD

Department: Department of Cancer Biology

Project Title: KRAS Regulation of Colorectal Cancer Immune Suppression

"The CCTS TL1 program offers an opportunity to focus research in areas where the ultimate goal is translating basic knowledge into meaningful clinical endpoints.  The program delivers a unique prospective into the bench to bedside approach to research by providing opportunities to work directly with clinicians."


Emily Mendez

Mentor name: Consuelo Walss-Bass, PhD

Department: UTHealth Psychiatry

Project Title: Investigating Human Neuron-Specific Gene Expression Signatures of Cocaine-Induced Neurotoxicity in Postmortem Brain and Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell-Derived Neurons

"As a physician scientist trainee in the field of neuroscience, I am passionate about translational science and how we can use translational models and discoveries to improve neurological and psychiatric patient care. I am excited about the CCTS TL1 program, the rigorous clinical and translational science curriculum, and learning how to form rigorous scientific questions and models that will advance patient care."


Jessie Morrill

Mentor: Qingchun Tong, PhD and Ilya Levental, PhD

Department: Center for Metabolic and Degenerative Diseases

Project Title: The Influence of Dietary Fat on Neuronal Cell Membrane Properties that May Contribute to Leptin Resistance and Obesity Development

"I am thrilled to be a part of the TL1 program because of the experiences I will gain by satisfying the Core Competencies, attending ACTS, and by learning among fellow TL1 awardees at the monthly seminar. I believe that the culmination of these experiences will allow me to develop the tools I need to become a better scientist and advocate for improving human health."

Wahid-Kareem 2

Kareem Wahid

Mentor: Clifton Fuller, MD, PhD

Department: Radiation Oncology

Project Title: An Image-Based Translational Artificial Intelligence Framework for Personalized Radiotherapy in Head and Neck Cancer.

"I believe the TL1 program will help me gain further knowledge and insight related to translational medicine that I can apply in my career as a physician-scientist. I first-hand know the importance clinical engagement has on solving translational problems, so this facet particularly excites me. I believe my graduate work in radiation oncology would significantly benefit from opportunities where I could observe and interact with patients who have the potential to be directly affected by my research. Forming bonds with my patients that I believe are necessary as a physician which I can then use as inspiration for my science. Moreover, the TL1 program offers a holistic approach to learning the skill-set I require in translational medicine." 


Michelle Winkler

Mentor: Michael Curran

Department: Immunology 

Project Title: Eliminating Tumor Immune Privilege Through Immune Checkpoint Cytoreduction

"I was attracted to the TL1 program because it provides opportunities for researchers to witness the clinical result of science. Being able to shadow a physician alongside developing a foundation in translational science has already begun to be an invaluable experience that I plan to take with me as my research career unfolds."

2021 Postdoctoral Trainees

Naomi Bier 

Naomi Bier, PhD

Mentor: Blake Hanson, PhD

Department: Epidemiology  

Project Title: Genomic Detection of Antimicrobial Resistance- Identifying Resistance Genes, Mobile Genetic Elements, and Pathogens

"I have a very strong background in molecular sciences, however, my ultimate goal is to perform research that has an impact on patient care and clinical outcomes. This fellowship offers many opportunities to develop knowledge and experience in clinical and translation sciences, and provides the opportunity for patient and community engagement." 

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Anna Colleen Crouch, PhD

Mentor: Erik Cressman, MD, PhD

Department: Interventional Radiology  

Project Title: Thermochemical Ablation for Treatment of Hepatocellular Carcinoma in Murine Models: Preclinical Feasibility Study

"My previous research has been in the basic science realm, so I wanted to have more clinical and translational exposure."    

Marianne Martinez

Mariane Martinez, PhD

Mentor: Rebecca Berdeaux, PhD

Department: Integrative Biology and Pharmacology  

Project Title: Muscle Regeneration and Fibrosis in Humans After Traumatic Injury

"I am very honored, grateful and excited to be a part of the TL1 program. This program is going to be instrumental for my career because it provides amazing opportunities that train you to conduct great translational science. I have always been interested in the other side of research that includes interacting with patients and observing research in action in the clinic. Through this program, I will learn how to interact with clinicians, patients, and other people who are vital for creating interdisciplinary research teams that work together to achieve a common research goal. I know that this program will significantly enhance my postdoctoral experience and my translational research." 

Travis Pic

Travis Salzillo, PhD

Mentor: Clifton Fuller, MD, PhD

Department: Radiation Oncology- Research

Project Title: The development of the biological tumor volume as a marker of radiotherapy treatment response and minimization of normal tissue toxicities using the MR-linac

"As a medical physicist whose future professional responsibilities involve the curation, management, and maintenance of technology and protocols used in clinical imaging and radiation oncology, I intend on also conducting translational and clinical research that utilize cutting-edge techniques which are on the verge of clinical implementation. My doctoral research involved developing advanced MRI methods to study cancer progression in preclinical models of glioblastoma. While I developed technical expertise of MRI during this time, I lacked the training to translate it into clinical research projects. This TL1 training program is an ideal opportunity to facilitate my academic transition from preclinical to translational and clinical research as well as my professional development from mentored trainee to an independent investigator. Through participation in the activities sponsored by the TL1 training program and fulfillment of its core competencies, I aim to emerge as a scientist qualified to apply for future NIH support and tenure track junior faculty positions to conduct translational and clinical research."