Get to Know the Class of 2016

Here are profiles of members of the Class of 2016 of the Cedars-Sinai Graduate Program in Biomedical Science and Translational Medicine The profiles are excerpted from the program for the June 15 commencement ceremony.

Janet L. Markman, Class Speaker

Earned her bachelor of science degree in forensics from Pennsylvania State University in University Park and her master of science degree in bioscience technologies from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. At Cedars-Sinai, as a research associate, she initially studied a novel nanomedicine treatment for metastatic brain cancer. She then initiated her graduate research under the mentorship of Moshe Arditi, MD, professor of Pediatrics. Her goal was to better understand the role of the immune system in cancer. She discovered that testosterone acts in a protective manner to enhance the immune response against melanoma metastasis in the lung. Markman plans to continue her career as a postdoctoral fellow in the field of immuno-oncology.

Aslam Abbasi Akhtar

Graduated from the University of California, Irvine, with a bachelor's degree in molecular biology and a master's degree in biotechnology and stem cell research. After a successful stint in the biotech industry, he joined the Cedars-Sinai graduate program and pursued his thesis work in the Cedars-Sinai Regenerative Medicine Institute in the laboratory of Joshua Breunig, PhD, assistant professor of Biomedical Sciences. He investigated the molecular mechanisms that specify neural stem cells in the postnatal brain, and characterized an inducible system for regulated gene expression in transplanted cells for potential use in therapies for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Parkinson's disease.

Deisy A. Contreras

Graduated from the California State University, Los Angeles, with a bachelor of science degree in microbiology. She completed her honors thesis on the molecular characterization of Acinetobacter clinical isolates from nosocomial outbreaks. In her dissertation laboratory, under the mentorship of Vaithi Arumugaswami, PhD, assistant professor of Surgery, she developed a stem cell-derived liver organoid platform to model hepatitis C infection and Alagille syndrome. After graduation, she plans to pursue a clinical fellowship in microbiology and infection control, where she will continue to study molecular mechanisms of medically relevant pathogens.

Ryan Cordner

Earned his bachelor of science degree in clinical laboratory science at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, in 2010. He joined the laboratory of Christopher Wheeler, PhD, who served as his thesis adviser in the Cedars-Sinai Department of Neurosurgery, where his research focused on therapeutic vaccines for brain cancer. He found that a mutation in the metabolic enzyme, isocitrate dehydrogenase 1, can make brain tumors resistant to therapeutic vaccines. The results of his research are expected to be useful for designing more effective vaccines against brain cancer. After graduation, he intends to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship in the field of cancer immunology.

Irina Epifantseva

Earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in cell biology, both summa cum laude, from Saint Petersburg State University in her native Russia. Her master's thesis work was performed in Sweden at Uppsala University. She joined the Cedars-Sinai Graduate Program where, in the laboratory of her mentor, Robin Shaw, MD, PhD, she focused on noncanonical roles for gap junction proteins involved in cell proliferation and heart failure progression. She found that the smaller, non-channel related, alternatively translated isoforms of gap junction protein (Cx43) can directly affect cell growth. It may be possible that by regulating alternative translation initiation of Cx43, new cancer therapies can be developed. She plans to continue research in the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute as a postdoctoral scientist.

Nargess Hassanzadeh-Kiabi

Earned her bachelor of science degree from UCLA and her master's degree in public health from University of Southern California. She joined the lab of Helen Goodridge, PhD, associate professor of Biomedical Sciences at Cedars-Sinai, and focused her thesis work on uncovering the intricacies of how the innate immune system presents the invasion of foreign microbes to the adaptive immune system and how this shapes the adaptive immune response to the pathogen. Her goal is to ultimately exploit the immune-stimulating properties of microbial components to develop new immunotherapies. She also took on several leadership roles, including being a part of the inaugural Graduate Student Association in the role of vice president. For the past three years, she has led the Association for Women in Science at Cedars-Sinai.

Corey Seehus

Earned his bachelor of science degree in molecular biology from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he studied neural development. His graduate research at Cedars-Sinai, under the mentorship of Jonathan Kaye, PhD, professor of Biomedical Sciences and Medicine, focused on the development of the immune system, principally the transcriptional programs that regulate the development of newly discovered types of innate immune cells. After graduation, he will pursue a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University Medical School, studying neuro-immune interactions.