Memorial Sloan Kettering’s 30th annual Academic Convocation honored students receiving PhD degrees for work conducted in Memorial Sloan Kettering’s laboratories; younger Memorial Sloan Kettering physicians, scientists, and postdoctoral research fellows; and established clinicians and investigators from the Center and beyond.
Memorial Sloan Kettering’s 30th annual Academic Convocation featured a stirring address by Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and honored students receiving PhD degrees for work conducted in Memorial Sloan Kettering’s laboratories; younger Memorial Sloan Kettering physicians, scientists, and postdoctoral research fellows; and established clinicians and investigators from the Center and beyond.
“Many things go into the success of an institution like ours,” observed Memorial Sloan Kettering President Harold Varmus in his opening remarks at the Center’s 2009 Convocation on May 14. “They almost all fall under the rubric of delivery of care to patients with cancer, research to make cancer a more manageable disease in the future, or the training of people to care for patients with the disease and make further research gains.” “Today,” Dr. Varmus continued, “you’ll hear particular emphasis on the
Keynote speaker Dr. Hrabowski electrified the audience, gathered in the Rockefeller Research Laboratories Auditorium, telling stories of his coming-of-age in segregated 1960s Birmingham, Alabama, and how his childhood experiences led him to “ask what I could do to have more people of color excited about math and science, and how I could convince the world that people could come from any background and become the best.” He reminded the graduates that “it takes researchers to produce researchers… . My challenge to you is to think about how you can, in the midst of doing your own research, pull in other people — more women, more people of color, more people from low-income backgrounds — and get them excited about asking the good questions, using the knowledge that they have. It can make all the difference …”
Faculty mentor Joan Massagué (center) with PhD recipients Claudio Alarcon (left) and David Miguel Padua
(From left) Memorial Sloan Kettering President Harold Varmus; Convocation keynote speaker Freeman Hrabowski; and Chairman of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Boards of Overseers and Managers Douglas Warner
Postdoctoral Research Award winner Agnidipta Ghosh (left) with SKI Director Thomas Kelly
Memorial Sloan Kettering Physician-in-Chief Robert Wittes presents Memorial Sloan Kettering surgeon Larissa Temple with the Boyer Clinical Research Award
Developmental biologist Eric Lai, winner of the Boyer Basic Research Award, with Molecular Biology Program Chair and Director of Graduate Studies Kenneth Marians
(From left) PhD recipient Olimsambu Uche, SKI Director Thomas Kelly, and faculty mentor Derek Sant'Angelo--"Olisambu Uche, better known as Bobu to his friends and family, worked on innate T cells. Innate T cells are essentially bigger, better, faster versions of our regular T cells. Bobu identified the transcription factor that's necessary - that makes these cells bigger, faster, and better. It certainly changed the direction of my lab, my research, and it's changed the direction of the research of labs around the world." -- Immunologist Derek Sant'Angelo on Olisambu Uche
PhD recipient Server Etem (left) with faculty mentor Malcolm Moore--"As occasionally happens, Server made a serendipitous observation that turned the course of his research to a rather different project, which was trying to understand the cancer stem cell. He identified a unique biological entity, a chain of cells composed of ovarian cancer stem cells that he termed a catena, from the Latin for chain. I would like to clone him, but in the absence of the technology to do so, I've kept him on as a postdoc at least until he can reap the rewards of his very exciting observation." -- Cell biologist Malcolm Moore on Server Adil Ertem
PhD recipient Ting Jia (left) with faculty mentor Eric Pamer--"There are certain infections that can't be survived unless you send your monocytes from your bone marrow to wherever the infection is occurring. And we've been plagued by the question of how do cells in the bone marrow know to leave, and how do they know where to go? Ting thought it might be useful to make a mouse where we could see the cells as they were going through this process. He then began infiltrating labs throughout New York City and learning from others how to do this. He imported the technology to my laboratory, and we are now making reporter mice left and right and learning enormous amounts. I can say with confidence that there's nobody at this moment anywhere who knows more than Ting about how monocytes can move from the bone marrow into the bloodstream, that one critical step in defense against infection." -- Immunologist Eric Pamer on Ting Jia
Faculty mentor Prasad Jallepalli with PhD recipient Catherine Randall--"Cate was tireless in studying a really interesting but somewhat mysterious regulator of cell division that we study in my lab called Polo kinase. It has attracted a lot of attention because it's dysregulated in a number of cancer cells. Cate undertook a very precise and insightful genetic dissection of how Polo works in human cells, and in the process developed a number of powerful tools that combine genetics and chemistry and was able to use those to illuminate functions of Polo we really didn't understand well." -- Molecular biologist Prasad Jallepalli on Catherine Leah Randall
(From left) PhD recipient Brian Edward Richardson, SKI Director Thomas Kelly, Memorial Sloan Kettering President Harold Varmus, and faculty mentor Mary Baylies--"Brian's work has changed our understanding of how undifferentiated muscle cells called myoblasts fuse with each other. This process is essential for the formation and repair of muscles. He has identified the site of myoblast fusion, a particular subcellular structure at this site, and several genes that regulate the fusion process." -- Developmental biologist Mary Baylies on Brian Edward Richardson
This year, 31 students received their PhD degrees from Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences, an academic partnership between the Weill Cornell Medical College and the Sloan Kettering Institute. Introduced by Harold Varmus and Sloan Kettering Institute Director Thomas J. Kelly, the graduates and their research accomplishments were described by their faculty mentors.
In addition to recognizing the achievements of students, Academic Convocation honors Memorial Sloan Kettering physicians and scientists at various points in their careers with several awards that acknowledge outstanding accomplishments.
Two awards were presented to investigators working outside the Center. The C. Chester Stock Award Lectureship was given to Douglas R. Lowy, Deputy Director of the Division of Basic Sciences in the Center for Cancer Research at the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Lowy played an integral role in the development of the vaccine against the human papillomavirus, which instigates most cases of cervical cancer, the second most common cause of cancer deaths in women worldwide. The Katharine Berkan Judd Award Lectureship was presented to Janet Rossant, head of research at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. Dr. Rossant has been a leader in the study of embryos. During the course of her work, she has revealed many of the molecular and genetic interactions that are responsible for determining the fate of cells.
The winners of the Samuel and May Rudin Awards for Excellence in Nursing were also recognized.
“Our distinguished and energetic faculty has shown you their commitment to students, and their own excitement about research going on in a variety of disciplines,” said Dr. Varmus in concluding the ceremony. “I’d like to dedicate this last round of applause not only to the graduating students, but to those who have mentored them.”