MEET THE
5 FOR THE FIGHT
CANCER
RESEARCH
FELLOWS

100% of donations fund bold, groundbreaking ideas and the cancer researchers brave enough to pursue them!

5 FOR THE FIGHT CANCER RESEARCH FELLOWSHIP
AT HUNTSMAN CANCER INSTITUTE

In Conjunction with Huntsman Cancer Foundation

KATIE BASHAM, PHD


Fighting adrenal cancer with less toxic treatment options

Basham is a cancer researcher at Huntsman Cancer Institute and an assistant professor of oncological sciences at the University of Utah. While completing her scientific training at the University of Michigan, she received a postdoctoral fellowship award from the American Cancer Society. Basham completed her PhD at the University of Utah.

WHO IS YOUR 5 FOR?

My 5 is for my mom. She’s the person who really inspired my career path. She’s the person who, growing up, always taught me that I could go on and do anything that I wanted, which I think is a really powerful message to hear as a kid. And science is definitely a difficult career path, so for me that’s been kind of the light that helps push through all the challenges, knowing that, one, I can do it because she always told me that I could and, two, that it will help people like her.

SAMUEL CHESHIER, MD, PHD


Fighting brain tumors in kids

Cheshier is a pediatric neurosurgeon with an MD / PhD from Stanford University and previously completed a clinical pediatric cancer fellowship at Sweden’s Lund University. While treating kids, he is also pursuing better treat- ments for brain tumors.

WHO IS YOUR 5 FOR?

My 5 is for an amazing kid I took care of who lost his fight to medulloblastoma and my cousin, who died of colon cancer. I always think of him when I do cancer research.

ADRIANA COLETTA, PHD, MS, RD


Fighting for better cancer outcomes through diet and exercise

Coletta integrates diet and exercise in cancer care and studies how to improve survival. She completed her PhD in Kinesiology and Exercise Science at Texas A&M University, and trained as a Clinical Dietician Johns Hopkins University Children's Center.

She became interested in nutrition through her sports dietitian at Penn State, when she was a college rower. The 5 For The Fight Fellowship allows her to develop a clinical algorithm that aligns with the clinical workflow and makes exercise a part of the survivorship care plan.

WHO IS YOUR 5 FOR?

My 5 is for my grandfather, who had liver cancer. I really looked up to him and wished that I could have spent more time with him. He was kind and strong and he had a lot of integrity and was always honest. He told me to always do the right thing. And even though it can be hard, in the end you always win

MATTHEW COVINGTON, MD

Fighting for earlier, more accurate detection of breast cancer

As an assistant professor of radiology and imaging sciences at the U of U and the Center for Quantitative Cancer Imaging at HCI, Matthew specializes in innovating breast imaging to find ways to more accurately detect and diagnose breast cancer. He received his medical degree from the U of U, and completed his medical training at the Scripps Institute in San Diego, the University of Arizona, and the Mayo Clinic in Arizona. He previously worked as an assistant professor of radiology at Washington University in St. Louis.

SHEETAL HARDIKAR, PHD


Fighting colorectal cancer and its connection to chronic disease

Hardikar was recruited to Utah from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center where she received her PhD in Epidemiology. She also holds a Master of Public Health in Biostatistics from The Ohio State University. Hardikar is working to understand how risk factors for colorectal cancer - for example, inflammation, obesity, and diabetes - can help improve understanding of the disease, and outcomes for patients with these tumors.

WHO IS YOUR 5 FOR?

My 5 is for my grandmother, who was diagnosed with kidney cancer right as I was getting out of medical school. My grandmother was born in a remote village in India and she could not go to school. She got married to my grandfather, who was a teacher, and he was very supportive of her learning. She always encouraged us to ask questions and I feel that has played an important role in my wanting to be a scientist… to stay curious.

KEREN HILGENDORF, PhD

Fighting cancer by working to understand why obesity accelerates cancer growth

Keren is an assistant professor of biochemistry at U of U and a member of HCI where she oversees a cancer research laboratory. She received her PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, followed by postdoctoral training at Stanford University School of Medicine as a Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow.

SIWEN HU-LIESKOVAN, MD, PHD


Fighting melanoma and other cancers through improving the efficacy of immunotherapy

Hu-Lieskovan is a recent recruit to Utah from the University of California, Los Angeles, where she completed her clinical training. She is a board-certified oncologist with a clinical focus in melanoma. Hu-Lieskovan develops clinical trials to test new approaches using immunotherapy to improve outcomes for patients with tumors like melanoma.

WHO IS YOUR 5 FOR?

My 5 is for my dad. His cancer was early stage at the beginning, and eventually it progressed and he died from it. Throughout his care, I started to realize how few options the patients have, especially in terms of immunotherapy for his kind of cancer—GI cancer. There is still a lot we need to do.

ROBERT JUDSON-TORRES, PHD


Fighting melanoma and focuses on a rare type of the disease that is more prominent in people of color

Judson-Torres completed his PhD in Biomedical Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco. He was subsequently awarded a prestigious National Institutes of Health Director’s Early Independence Award. Now, he works to study a distinct type of melanoma that has higher rates in people of color. His laboratory research is designed to identify new ways to target this disease.

WHO IS YOUR 5 FOR?

My 5 is for those with a kind of melanoma that hasn’t been deeply studied. The melanoma that researchers have made so much progress on is the one that is not exclusively, but is predominantly, a Caucasian disease. The melanoma I’m talking about occurs about 7% or less in Caucasians and about 50% to 70% in Africans and Asians.

BEN MYERS, PHD


Fighting for the next generation of drug treatments for cancer

Myers completed his PhD training at the University of California, San Francisco, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University. He studies how cells communicate with one another, and how these interactions contain critical clues to understand how cancer cells develop the ability to resist drugs that had previously killed them.

WHO IS YOUR 5 FOR?

My 5 is for my colleagues. I lost two of them to cancer. I think losing two people who were really close to me, and who happened to be scientists, underscored for me that nobody is immune from it. It also underscored the importance of the work we’re all doing as a community of cancer researchers here—to try to make it so that one day those tumors won’t be fatal.

MARY PLAYDON, PHD, MPH

Fighting cancer by understanding the role of diet and nutrition on cancer risk, health, and longevity after a cancer diagnosis

Mary aims to improve survival rates of cancer patients through research focused on diet. A nutritional and cancer epidemiologist, she completed a postdoctoral fellowship in metabolic epidemiology with the National Cancer Institute’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics. She is a cancer epidemiologist at HCI and an assistant professor of nutrition and integrative physiology at the U of U.

SONAM PURI, MD


Fighting lung cancer bench to bedside

Puri is a medical oncologist who specializes in caring for patients with lung cancers. She completed her cancer clinical fellowship at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida. She works to bring insights from her patients in the clinic to new ways to study small cell lung cancers in the lab - and to use those findings to develop new clinical studies for the disease.

WHO IS YOUR 5 FOR?

My 5 is for my grandmother. She was a very strong lady; she ran the house and had everything under control all the time. When I was just joining medical school, she told me and my elder sister that she felt a lump in her breast and it was early stage breast cancer, which was ultimately cured. Her cancer had a great impact on our family and just made me realize that cancer is a big deal and it’s not dependent on what stage you are diagnosed. Cancer really changes your life and the people taking care of you short term. Long term, it has a big impact that colors everything.

CHARLES ROGERS, PHD, MPH, MS, MCHES®


Fighting to prevent cancer for the medically underserved

Rogers uses his training as a behavioral scientist and certified health education specialist to develop innovative approaches to reduce cancer health disparities. This includes unique partnerships with barber shops, state fairs, and other forums to bring information about ways to reduce cancer risk directly to underserved communities. Rogers completed his PhD at the Texas A&M University, followed by postdoctoral training at the University of Minnesota Medical School. Rogers holds a prestigious National Cancer Institute-fellowship grant that supports his work to reduce colorectal cancer rates in Black men.

WHO IS YOUR 5 FOR?

My 5 is for my aunt. After a few misdiagnoses, we found out she had stage IV colorectal cancer (CRC). She was screened at 52. So if she would’ve been screened earlier—especially if we consider the recommendations that have been there since 2008 for African Americans to get screened at 45 due to getting CRC earlier at a more advanced stage—she may still be here today. I have dedicated my life to eliminating disparities as it relates to underserved populations in her honor.

ALEJANDRO SANCHEZ, MD

Fighting for better survival outcomes by understanding the connection between renal cancer and obesity

Alejandro is an assistant professor of urology at the U of U and a surgical oncologist at HCI. He received a Young Investigator Award from the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the Chairman’s Award for Excellence in Basic Science during his urologic oncology fellowship training at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

GITA SUNEJA, MD, MS

Fighting to improve access to cancer treatment for marginalized populations

A radiation oncologist at HCI and associate professor of radiation oncology at the U of U, Gita's clinical specialties include the treatment of breast and gynecologic cancers. Her research focuses on enhancing health equity to improve cancer outcomes for all people. She completed her medical degree at Brown University and served as chief resident during her radiation oncology residency training at the University of Pennsylvania.

CHRISTOS VAKLAVAS, MD

Fighting breast cancer by translating new research insights into clinical trials for breast cancer

Christos is an associate professor of internal medicine at the U of U and cares for breast cancer patients at HCI. He is a breast cancer physician leader and oversees the clinical research in breast cancer at HCI. His research has been supported by a Young Investigator Award from the American Society of Clinical Oncology and a Career Catalyst Award from Susan G. Komen.

THE DERMOT COSTELLO CANCER IMMUNOLOGY FELLOWSHIP
AT UNIVERSITY COLLEGE CORK

In conjunction with Breakthrough Cancer Research

SYLVIE AMU, PHD

Fighting solid tumours through the role of B cells

Amu is an immunologist with main interest in B cells. She has a PhD in cell biology from Gothenburgs University in Sweden and post PhD experience in immunology. She is using the 5 For The Fight Fellowship to set up her own lab to study the role of B cells in solid tumour micro-environment.

WHO IS YOUR 5 FOR?

My 5 is every cancer patient and their family who are going through so much and do not always have a happy ending. I want to help change that.

AXELLE CHINA

Fighting solid tumours through the role of B cells

China did a Masters of Immunology in the University of Paris-Est Créteil, France. She worked in a HIV research lab before moving to Ireland to start her PhD in Cancer Research at UCC. Her project aims to study B cells, a specific type of immune cell, in lung cancer.

WHO IS YOUR 5 FOR?

My 5 is for my aunt, a loving woman who was recently diagnosed and won her fight, and my great-grandad, whose memories I cherish dearly.

DAVID ALBERTO ZELAYA SIERRA, MS

Fighting solid tumours through the role of B cells

To understand the function of regulatory B cells in poorly prognostic cancers

Zelaya has a Master of Science in Cellular and Molecular Biology obtained at University College Cork. He is currently working as a Research Assistant in Cork Cancer Research at UCC researching the function of B cells in patients diagnosed with poorly prognostic cancers.

WHO IS YOUR 5 FOR?

My 5 is for my family. They have inspired me to overcome the difficulties that the science career may bring. My family has been there for me since I made the decision to pursue an investigation career in another country and will be there for me in the future. I know that what I am doing will help people have a family that will support their dreams, just like mine has.

SUPPORTING
GRANTS