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TGP Student Spotlights

14 Home Programs, 100+ Students, These are just a few of our Stories

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Amerria Causey

Program: Virology

Hometown: Hollandale, MD, United States

PI(s): David Knipe & Smita Gopinath

I am a Mississippi native taking on the big city! My hometown has a population of less than 2,000 people. My small-town upbringing has made me eternally grateful for community. To list some things that inform the person that I am; I am Black,  I am Queer,  I am Fierce,  and I love Science.

My research lies in the intersection of the vaginal microbiome and Herpes Simplex virology. The human vaginal microbiome is commonly characterized by an abundance of bacteria from the Lactobacillus genus. Lactobacilli-dominated communities correlate with a lower risk of genital herpes acquisition and decreased instances of viral reactivation. The identification of anti-herpetic compounds produced by lactobacillus bacteria offers a potential avenue for novel antiviral therapies. Harnessing the natural capabilities of beneficial bacteria for viral control could lead to innovative treatment approaches for a whole myriad of viruses.

Graduation is pretty far down the horizon with me, but when I visualize Dr. Causey, she is some big shot executive.I am an avid writer. I love writing poetry. I also paint, poorly, but one day they might end up in a museum, who knows. To keep active, I love running and roller skating and at the tender age of 25 I am learning how to swim!

Fabian Suri-Payer

Program: Molecules, Cells, and Organisms

Hometown: Hannover, NI, Germany

PI(s): Anna Greka

I grew up and finished school in Germany, living first in Heidelberg and then in Hannover. As my brother moved to the US to start his PhD, and my parents moved to England, I decided to come to the US as well for my undergraduate studies, and then stayed here to also do a PhD! Unfortunately, this comes at the cost of not being able to eat Currywurst or Döner for the last 5 years!

I’ve always been interested in biology and how it affects human disease because my mother used to be an immunologist. I also realized pretty early on that I absolutely did not want to be a physician; studying molecular biology and diving into biotech, drug discovery and development was the perfect alternative. My main goal is to attempt to identify and develop new therapeutic strategies for rare genetic diseases, focusing on the liver/lung disease Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency and  UMOD-mediated Autosomal Dominant Tubulointerstitial Kidney Disease. Through TGP I’ve been introduced to the world of drug discovery and the various challenges associated with developing new therapeutics and am translating this knowledge into my own research.

Outside of lab I spend most of my time playing tennis, soccer, going to the gym, reading or playing video games. I used to play competitive tennis growing up, with many of my friends trying to go pro, but I just did it for fun. Funnily enough, I instead had offers to move to LA to play professional video games as I was starting my PhD!

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Emma Dolen

Program: Chemical Biology

Hometown: Ellington, CT, United States

PI(s): Tim Mitchison

I am a fourth year ChemBio student in Tim Mitchison’s lab working on developing a small molecule inhibitor of an enzyme. I am originally from a small town in CT, called Ellington, though we often called it Smellington as we have a lot of cows (and manure). Before coming to Harvard, I studied chemistry at Bucknell and ran on the cross country and track teams there.

My research centers on finding a small molecule inhibitor of a kinase implicated in brain cancer. My project started with various screening approaches and has led to structure-guided design of inhibitors and various in vitro enzyme assays. It is a fun project as I get to learn the basics of drug discovery and collaborate with experts across the drug discovery pipeline. I plan to pursue a career in drug discovery. I am not quite sure where that will take me after graduation, but I hope to be involved in the preclinical process, and it is a lifelong goal of mine to work on a drug that eventually succeeds in the clinic.

In college, I ran the steeplechase! While the steeplechase is traditionally thought of as a horse race, it is also a track race where there are five thick barriers to jump over every lap, and one of those barriers has a pit of water on the other side. (Yes, this is a real Olympic-contested event)! I no longer do this bizarre race, but I have gotten into trail running post-college, so you can often find me splashing through puddles on the trails instead of the water pit on a track.

Frank Obeng Addae

Program: Biological Sciences in Public Health

Hometown: Dunkwa-On-Offin, Central Region, Ghana

PI(s): Manoj Duraisingh

I grew up in Ghana in a humble family of seven, where my father, the family's breadwinner, was working as a pupil teacher with a monthly salary of less than GHS 500 (~$38). Supporting my education was challenging due to financial difficulties, but I count myself blessed to have come this far through the support of loved ones, NGOs, and scholarship-giving organizations. I am very passionate about leadership, teaching, mentoring, volunteering, and community service. As part of my volunteering activities, I mentor several African students seeking graduate school opportunities in the USA. I have co-founded a foundation called Mofra Literacy Foundation that aims to provide financial support to brilliant but needy students in my hometown in Ghana.

Malaria is one of the leading causes of death of children under five years in Africa, where I come from. With the emergence of resistance against the current antimalarial drugs, there is a need to identify new antimalarials with novel mechanisms of action and less susceptibility to resistance. For my PhD, I am interested in exploring Plasmodium histone deacetylases as novel targets for antimalarial drugs. I am very passionate about identifying novel therapeutics to combat infectious diseases and other non-communicable diseases such as cancer.

I love to play soccer, sing, listen to music, and preach the word of God. I also love engaging in community services to positively impact the lives of others. Finally, I enjoy cooking Ghanaian meals like Jollof!

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Michael Mandanas

Program: Immunology

Hometown: Edmmond, OK, United States

PI(s): Nora Barrett

I grew up with food allergies, and I’ve always wanted to do something that could help other members of my community. For me, science was the best way to do that. I’m currently researching the effects of mTOR signaling in the airway epithelium in the context of type 2 inflammation (chronic rhinosinusitis, asthma, etc). I’d love to leverage the resources and classes provided by the TGP to turn my current research into real impact on human patients in the future! After graduation, I’d love to work in the biotech or pharmaceutical industry so that I can help create treatments or devices that can help patients. 

I’m also very involved in the performing arts! As a child, I used to act professionally (some commercials, a movie, and even an episode of Barney!). Now, I love performing in musical theatre, and am a member of a Boston dance team called Inc Dance Crew.

Han Spinner

Program: Biological and Biomedical Sciences

Hometown: Los Gatos, CA, United States

PI(s): Debora Marks

I did my undergraduate studies at UC Berkeley in Genetics and Plant Biology with a minor in Food Systems. Most of my classes were about plants and agriculture, and yet I craved therapeutically-focused research. I worked on a CRISPR protein called CasX with a graduate student named Ben Oakes; our goal was to understand how this protein works in human cells and to engineer it to work even better.  After graduating, I continued engineering CasX at Scribe Therapeutics, and the work involved a LOT of cloning and intricate assay development. When I decided to get my PhD, I also chose to switch fields into the land of machine learning and computational biology in order to minimize arduous protein engineering work for scientists (i.e. myself) in the future.

Now, I am a 4th year PhD candidate in Debora Marks’ lab applying machine learning methods to answer biological questions. I’m extremely curious about protein engineering’s capacity to change protein function and increase therapeutic efficacy, so most of my research now focuses on accelerating protein engineering workflows with ML. TGP does a great job at painting a broad picture of therapeutic drug development, spanning everything from old school small molecule drug hunting to bleeding-edge cell and gene therapies. My research fits more into that bloody edge; How can we make protein-based therapies even more effective? Understanding the regulatory landscape and drug pricing from TGP has been quite instructive for the sort of questions I want to answer during/after my PhD.   

My main goal after graduating will be to reduce the cost of biologics on the market. The current pricing of therapeutics is wildly inaccessible for equitable global healthcare. I also love learning more about plants, especially when people teach me the names of new ones!

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Cynthia Moncada-Reid

Program: Speech and Hearing Bioscience and Technology

Hometown: San Diego, CA, United States

PI(s): Lisa Goodrich

I study spiral ganglion neurons (SGNs), which relay electrical signals from sensory cells in the inner ear to the brain, allowing us to hear and interpret sounds. The auditory system is among the fastest and most dynamic of the body’s sensory systems, making it an excellent model for exploring how specific cellular functions contribute to complex biological processes. I am particularly interested in transcription factors that drive gene expression in a dose-dependent and combinatorial manner, which is crucial for establishing and maintaining synaptic heterogeneity in SGNs. My goal is to contribute to a more nuanced model of how gene expression is orchestrated and finely-tuned, not only in auditory neurons but potentially in other cell types as well.

My work can reveal potential targets for the development of stem-cell based therapies for hearing loss, fitting well with TGP’s focus on transforming basic scientific discoveries into clinical solutions for neurosensory disorders and beyond. After graduation, I am interested in merging scientific knowledge with entrepreneurship and intellectual property management to create impactful healthcare solutions.

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Heer Joisher

Program: Molecules, Cells, and Organisms

Hometown: Mulund, MH, India

PI(s): Constance Cepko

Humans, as well as other primates, possess high acuity daylight vision that is enabled due to a specialized region of the retina known as the fovea (“pit” in Latin). The fovea is located within a central region known as the macula, which is prone to degeneration as humans age, as in age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Though retinal development has been well studied, very little is known about the mechanisms that govern the development of this high acuity area (HAA). My thesis work is focused on a thorough investigation of the morphological and molecular aspects of HAA development using chicken as a model system.

My involvement with TGP has significantly enhanced my understanding of pharmacology, pharmacodynamics, and drug discovery fundamentals. The program has provided a robust framework for approaching therapeutic challenges and decision-making processes. Moreover, being part of the TGP community has been invaluable, offering networking opportunities with individuals from diverse backgrounds who share a common interest in therapeutic careers.My long-term goal revolves around gaining comprehensive knowledge and experience of the drug development life cycle, from early innovation and spin-out phases to market launch and beyond.

I am the incoming Co-President of Nucleate, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering tomorrow’s biotech leaders by educating today’s academic trainees. With a network spanning 28 chapters and encompassing over 150 academic institutions worldwide, I spend my time working with students around the globe to support biotech entrepreneurship and career development. Outside of academia, Nucleate, and research, I have a passion for painting. Saturdays are dedicated to unleashing my creativity on canvas, resulting in a house full of artwork, albeit varying in quality!

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Oyku Sumer

Program: Biological Sciences in Public Health

Hometown: Manisa, Türkiye

PI(s): Kristopher Sarosiek

I am a PhD student at Harvard University, focusing on translational oncology and women's health. With over five years of international research experience spanning prestigious institutions such as the German Cancer Research Center, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and the University of Toronto, my expertise lies in ovarian and breast cancer research. For my dissertation project, I investigate therapy-associated senescence in ovarian cancer. Currently, I manage the flagship chapter of Nucleate in Boston, deeply committed to translational research. My passion for biotech innovation was cultivated during my role as a business development intern at the Merck Innovation Center in Germany. Combining my research and biotech business experience across the USA, Europe, and the Middle East, I aim to drive impactful change at the intersection of academia and industry. I believe the TGP program will serve as an excellent bridge to reach my future goals.

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