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Michael is a current undergraduate student at Stevens Institute of Technology working towards a B.S. in Chemical Biology. He is enrolled in the seven-year combined medical program at Stevens and, following his undergraduate completion, will go on to study at New Jersey Medical School. Michael’s passion for medicine and research led to his joining the lab in January 2023, where he currently works with Daniel Centeno. Outside of school, Michael is an active member in Greek life on campus, and enjoys spending time with friends and trying new restaurants in his free time.
Teagan is currently enrolled as an undergraduate at Stevens Institute of Technology to earn his B.S. in Biology with a minor in medical humanities. On top of his studies at Stevens, Teagan works as a tutor for various biology and chemistry classes and joined the National Health Preprofessional Honor Society, Alpha Epsilon Delta (AED), where he actively participates in events. In the future, Teagan hopes to apply to medical schools next year and is rigorously working towards his goal. In his free time, he often takes walks around Hoboken, studies for his MCAT, and plays various sports with friends. Teagan’s strong interest in medical sciences, particularly in cancer studies and treatment methods, led him to join the lab in September 2022. He currently assists Daniel Centeno with his project, gaining invaluable hands-on experience that he hopes to be able to apply in clinical settings in the future.
Va’Shayna Williams is a Chemical Biology major at Stevens Institute of Technology working towards her Master of Science in Bioengineering. She graduated from Stevens in May 2022 with a Bachelor of Science in Bioengineering. Va’Shayna joined Dr. Iwanicki’s lab in November 2020 interested in the mechanisms of chemotherapy resistance of ovarian cancer using 3D models. Although unprecedented times due to COVID-19 have hindered normalcy, Va’Shayna remained determined in remaining active in the lab. In doing so, she has been diligent in attending weekly remote meetings and contributing to constructive discussion and analysis of laboratory data and literature. During her senior year, Va’Shayna conducted a research project on the role of ECM in Chemotherapy projection in ovarian cancer 3D models. In the future, Va’Shayna looks forward to growing her hands-on research experience and advancing her knowledge in the depths of ovarian cancer. Over the summer of 2022, Va’Shayna completed an internship with RWJ Barnabas Jersey City Medical Center under the Chair of the OBGYN Oncology department, Dr. Lance Bruck. In the operating room and oncology clinic, she actively discussed patient cases with residents and expanded her ability to think divergently about pathologies and diagnoses. She observed surgical procedures such as vaginal biopsies, hysterectomies, and endocervical curettages. When frozen samples were sent to pathology, Va’Shayna observed the steps involved in the staining and sectioning of the samples and then worked to identify where the cancer was prevalent. The clinic’s patient population consisted primarily of post-menopausal HPV positive and Cervical cancer cases. She stated that observing the progression of HPV neoplasia to malignancy due to the immune system’s inability to clear the viral infection was enlightening. When sitting in on Tumor Board she watched radiology, oncology, and pathology physicians come together to discuss future treatment options for the best outcomes. The opportunity to apply her research in a clinical setting over the past couple of months was riveting and she is tremendously grateful to have had this experience.
Tonja is always on the move. Coming from a small country in Central Europe – Slovenia – where she got her Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry at University of Ljubljana, she first moved to The Netherlands to obtain her Master’s degree in Molecular and Cellular Life Sciences from Utrecht University, and then crossed the ocean to start her PhD in Iwanicki Lab at Stevens Institute of Technology. Her PhD projects focus on basic mechanistic aspects of ovarian cancer cell biology, from effects of chemotherapy on cell cycle progression to initiation of cell extrusion and migration from their primary tumor. More than any other technique, she enjoys observing live cells under a microscope. During her spare time she likes to read philosophical books and watch documentaries, specifically ones that include the natural world and David Attenborough.
Charlene Cai is a Biology major at The College of New Jersey enrolled in their 7-Year Medical BS/MD Program with New Jersey Medical School. Upon successful completion of 3 years at TCNJ, she will directly matriculate into NJMS to finish her MD. She is projected to graduate from TCNJ in 2025 and NJMS in 2029. Charlene graduated from a dual-enrollment program in 2022 where she earned her high school diploma from the Academy for Health & Medical Sciences and her Associate of Science from Raritan Valley Community College. She joined Iwanicki Lab in May 2021 as a high school junior to pursue her interest in CRISPR technology and cancer research. Under the guidance of Tonja Pavlovic, she tracked PAX8 protein with CRISPR-CAS9 and observed its role in ovarian cancer. In the future, Charlene hopes to continue studying this disease and pursuing more hands-on oncological research.
Victoria is an undergraduate student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, graduating in the spring of 2023 with her Bachelor’s degree in biochemistry. She is very grateful for the opportunity to be learning and working in the Iwanicki lab over the summer of 2022. Victoria plans on going to pharmacy school and will be studying for her PCAT this fall. Outside of the lab, she enjoys being with her friends, painting, and shopping!
Josipa Grušanović is a third-year Ph.D. student from the Laboratory of Cell Signalling in Prague, Czech Republic. She belongs to the Eukaryotic group of the laboratory led by Dr. Tomáš Vomastek. Her research efforts have been focused on the role of the ERK signaling pathway in the control of cell proliferation and differentiation, specifically in Head and Neck Squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCCs). She is a visiting student in the Iwanicki lab, here to learn the basics of 3D culture systems and how to do the migration and invasion assays using 3D organoid models.
She is currently enrolled in the Biomedical Science program at High Tech High School where she will graduate in June 2024 with a high school diploma. Kavya joined Iwanicki lab in June 2022 and will work with Tonja Pavlovic to further pursue her interests in cancer research using CRISPR. She enjoys embroidery, crocheting, and spending time with family and friends outside of the lab. Kavya anticipates to utilize the knowledge and experience gained in Iwanicki lab to benefit her interests in the biochemical career field.
Anjali is a 3/4 Chemical Biology major and Medical Humanities minor at Stevens Institute of Technology. She is also looking to pursue an accelerated master’s in Chemical Biology. After graduating from the rigorous blue-ribbon school, West Windsor Plainsboro High School North, she has strived to be an active member of the Stevens community. In her time at Stevens, she has taken on the role of Public Relations Chair for the university’s branch of the American Chemical Society and been a pole vaulter for the varsity track and field team.
Anjali joined the lab in June 2021 and hopes to gain a multitude of lab experiences after the significant loss of in-person labs due to COVID-19. She will be working with the Iwanicki lab, specifically Tonja Pavlovic, to study ovarian cancer biology using techniques such as cell cultures and CRISPR/CAS9 and looks forward to learning through hands-on experiences.
Born and raised on the Jersey Shore, Izzy Escalante grew up loving nature and the beach/ocean. She discovered her passion for science and helping others when she took a liking to biology and other science classes. After taking many different STEM-oriented classes throughout her schooling she decided to attend Stevens Institute of Technology to earn her B.S. in Biology. Izzy currently tends to spend her time with her sisters in her sorority – Sigma Delta Tau – working at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, going to the beach, studying for her MCATs, and now assisting in a lab at Stevens.
After graduating Passaic Valley Regional High School with high honors and basic lab experience, Emily is currently an undergraduate at Stevens Institute of Technology, enrolled in an accelerated master’s program to earn her Bachelor and Master of Science in Chemical Biology with a minor in Medical Humanities (expected Spring 2023). Prior to joining Dr. Iwanicki’s lab in November 2020, she became engrossed with literature regarding oncology translational research and medicine, particularly in the transition between epithelial and mesenchymal phenotypes by which many cancers metastasize. In November 2020, Emily joined Dr. Iwanicki and the other lab members for their virtual meetings, during which she contributed to detailed discussion of literature and data analysis relevant to understanding the continuous metastasis of ovarian cancer during and after treatment. Despite the COVID-19 lockdown, Emily has maintained her passion and enthusiasm to contribute to impactful research of oncology and immunology.
Emily’s current objective is to become more involved with more hands-on cancer research through prospective summer internships and research programs.
Sadaf Farsinejad is a Ph.D. student in Iwanicki’s lab. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Cellular and Molecular Biology and Master’s in Biotechnology from the University of Tehran.
Her research efforts focus on the molecular and cellular mechanisms that regulate the formation of papillary projections in a 3D model of Ovarian Cancer (OC) as well as dissemination and metastasis to the mesothelial cells. Her current work focuses more on developing a model combined with fluorescent-automated microscopy to recapitulate this process in-vitro and studying the effect of various drugs including primary chemotherapy agents on OC dissemination. Investigating gene expression alteration in OC invasion and metastasis is also in her research interests.
She also has been working on the expression of circulating and tissue MicroRNAs in Breast Cancer in-vivo and her published works are accessible here.
Daniel is a fourth year Ph.D. candidate. His research investigates events that occur in the early stages of ovarian cancer, during which fallopian tube epithelial cells expressing mutant p53 modulate their expression of cell surface receptors and transporters. Specifically, Daniel is researching the role of the taurine and its receptor in the progression of ovarian cancer and cellular response to chemotherapy. Daniel received his M.S. in Chemistry from Stevens Institute of Technology and his B.S. in Chemistry from Saint Peter’s University.
Douglas Kung attended the Medical Sciences Academy at Freehold High School from 2013 – 2017 and received an early introduction to formal independent research and professional healthcare. Access to biochemistry and intermediate biology courses with large emphases on innovation and research afforded Douglas an interest in life sciences, which leads to his matriculation to Stevens Institute of Technology in the fall of 2017. Douglas has been pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Biology and plans to graduate in May of 2021.
While at Stevens Institute of Technology, Douglas joined Iwanicki Lab in the summer of 2018, and initially studied the Rho-associated coiled-coil kinase (ROCK) and the effect of its exogenous inhibition on the disseminative properties of Iwanicki Lab’s specialty 3D in vitro organoid structures – in which he used live-imaging techniques to demonstrate a notable attenuating effect of both Y-27632 and an anti-ROCKII shRNA construct on the extrusions of overgrown ME-180 (cervical) structures.
Douglas’s early studies at Iwanicki Lab endowed in him a keen interest in organoid culturing, live-imaging, and drug therapy.
Douglas’s work with ROCK inhibition and its influence over metastatic properties of 3D in vitro structures awarded him a competitive summer scholarship with Steven’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (OIE) in May of 2019. As one of the selected twenty undergraduates to participate, Douglas built upon the foundation of his early work by studying an exogenous ROCKII inhibitor already in clinical trials (AT-13148) and utilized the same 3D structures and imaging techniques in tandem with cell-adhesion assays to further elucidate the effects of ROCK inhibition on ovarian cancer dissemination. Along with the other OIE participants, Douglas concluded his scholarship with a poster presentation regarding his work on AT-13148 and its market share in ovarian chemotherapeutic agents at the annual OIE symposium in November 2019 and won first prize.
With a scholarship from the Center of Healthcare Innovation for the 2019-2020 academic year, Douglas spent his junior year once again exercising his interest in organoid culture and live-imaging to explore the possible therapeutic effects of an experimental pan-CD29 (ITGB1) inhibitor, OS2966, and demonstrated a dose-dependent but effective diminishment in extrusion length of ovarian carcinoma organoids. Douglas concluded the scholarship with a mock research article and a presentation to the chair of the department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology.
Douglas hopes that his work at Iwanicki Lab will be of use for the years to come and is happy to contribute a small amount to the repertoire of data the lab has generated; he enjoys preparing and imaging organoids, academic writing, and long nights in the lab.
With a background in basic scientific research garnered from his honors level life sciences courses in Queen of Peace High School, Estefan had enrolled into the Stevens Institute of Technology Chemistry and Chemical Biology division (Fall of 2017) with the goal of graduating in May 2021. He had joined Dr. Iwanicki’s lab in January of 2018 with an interest in studying genetic engineering and high grade serous epithelial ovarian cancer 3D tissue growth. Estefan’s undergraduate studies at Stevens Institute of Technology under Dr. Marcin Iwanicki were focused on the development and imaging of 3D organoid tissue cultures to model epithelial ovarian carcinoma metastasis. Under the support of the Center for Healthcare Innovation, Estefan studied the inhibition of non-muscle myosin II isoforms in 3D organoid culture models. At Iwanicki lab, Estefan has gained a significant amount of knowledge regarding the process of ovarian cancer metastasis, specifically in the epithelial to mesenchymal transition period to which the cancer begins metastasis. Microscopy techniques utilizing the use of light-emitting proteins and confocal were used extensively in the lab environment, as well as base cell culture techniques and assays. Under the support of the Governor’s STEM program, Estefan had co-lead a team of future scientists in analytical studies to observe the positive and negative impacts of the recent COVID-19 pandemic to the current model of Urban Transportation. The team is in the process of exploring these impacts and developing possible simulations based on observed data.
Estefan’s current interests in the lab pertain to further studying non-muscle myosin II isoform inhibition/over expression to further understand the role of these isoforms in ovarian cancer metastasis.
Marcin’s doctoral studies, supported by NIH Training Grant, were focused on the development of live light-emitting probes and microscopy technologies to study cell migration. During post-doctoral training, supported by NCI Training Grant and philanthropy, at Harvard Medical School in the laboratory of Dr. Joan Brugge, Marcin accumulated in-depth knowledge of cancer biology and 3D culture systems. Specifically, through the collaborations with ovarian cancer physician-scientist at Brigham and Women Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Massachusetts General Hospital, Marcin has successfully integrated 3D models of ovarian cancer with high-resolution live-cell imaging. Through the development of these methodologies, he has discovered the phenomenon of ovarian cancer mesothelial clearance and its dependence on mutant p53 and mesenchymal transcriptional programs. These studies have underscored the importance of the application of imaging technologies to ovarian cancer research. At Stevens Institute of Technology, our lab has undertaken an integrative approach, based on strengths in 3D tissue culture and microscopy to combine long-term live microscopy with organoid models of ovarian cancer dissemination. These approaches have generated new and exciting opportunities to study ovarian cancer cell populations that detach and disseminate.
Sarah holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia and a Master’s degree in Chemical Biology from Stevens Institute of Technology. In 2018 she was awarded a full scholarship to pursue her doctoral studies. She is a third year Ph.D. candidate. In her research she uses Immunofluorescence and Immunohistochemistry techniques to study ECM proteins in 2D and 3D cultures, and PDX models of ovarian cancer. She is also interested in studying the Rho-associated protein kinase (ROCK) inhibitor and its effect on ovarian cancer metastasis. When not in the lab, she watches medical TV shows, listens to music, and struggles to take care of the plants her mom brought to her while visiting the USA.