Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

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Get to Know the Class of 2017

These are profiles of members of the Class of 2017 of the Cedars-Sinai Graduate Programs in Biomedical Science and Translational Medicine.

Samuel Sances, Class Speaker

PhD Graduate

Samuel Sances began his research career as a high school student working in agricultural research in San Luis Obispo, California. He studied biochemistry at San Diego State University, where he won a fellowship from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to employ cells to study Parkinson’s disease at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in La Jolla, California. For his dissertation research, Samuel joined the lab of Clive Svendsen, PhD, where he used stem cells to model neurodegenerative disease, focusing on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). His research led him to develop a new method to study ALS that combined human vasculature and spinal cord tissue from patient-specific stem cells in an "organ-on-chip" system. Samuel will continue this research at Cedars-Sinai through a two-year grant funded by the ALS Association.

Isaac Asare Bediako

PhD Graduate

Isaac Asare Bediako obtained his bachelor of science degree in biological sciences from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana, West Africa, in 2001. He received a master of science degree in biotechnology from Johns Hopkins University. His training at Cedars-Sinai gave him the opportunity to work with a large animal model of insulin resistance under the guidance of Stella Kim, PhD, Marilyn Ader, PhD, and Richard Bergman, PhD. The training afforded him diverse exposure to basic and clinical sciences, particularly the different components of diabetes care and treatment — from nutritional and health counseling to metabolic surgery. These experiences influenced his decision to embark on diabetes clinical trial management. His research is focused on the feasibility of a novel way to treat diabetes by inhibiting the liver from extracting precipitous amounts of insulin, thereby preserving insulin-secreting cells and preventing or derailing the onset of diabetes.

Melissa Jones

PhD Graduate

Melissa K. Jones obtained the following degrees from California State University, Long Beach: a bachelor of science degree in cellular and molecular biology, a certificate in biotechnology with an emphasis in stem cell biology and a master of science degree in biology. At Cedars-Sinai, her studies in the Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute have been focused on stem cell-based treatments for retinal degenerative diseases. She identified therapeutic mechanisms used by human neural progenitor cells for treating retinal degeneration and developed a model mimicking these processes in culture. After graduation, she will pursue a postdoctoral fellowship studying retinal development at the University of California, San Diego.

Mecca Madany

PhD Graduate

Mecca Madany graduated with a bachelor of science in biology from California State University, Los Angeles. Following this, she received a National Institutes of Health cancer collaborative fellowship and pursued her master of science degree in chemistry and biochemistry. After joining the graduate program at Cedars-Sinai, she completed her thesis work in the laboratory of John S. Yu, MD, in the Department of Neurosurgery. Her research has focused on delineating mechanisms for therapeutic resistance of glioma cancer stem cells, and she identified a novel function of the transcription factor ZEB1 in the chemotherapy and radioresistance of these cells. Mecca intends to continue her work in cancer research and therapeutic resistance with a focus on brain metastatic breast cancer.

Takako (Traci) Mizuno

PhD Graduate

Takako Mizuno, known to most as Traci Mizuno, obtained her bachelor of science degree in public health sciences from the University of California, Irvine. She then held a productive and rewarding research associate position at Cedars-Sinai examining cancer cell sensitivity to small molecule inhibitors developed by the lab. Soon after, she began her graduate studies and joined the laboratory of Barry Stripp, PhD. Under his mentorship and expertise in understanding mechanisms of lung stem/progenitor cell maintenance and repair, she and her collaborators identified disease-associated changes in epithelial cells of patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis using single-cell RNA-sequencing analysis. After graduation, Traci intends to leverage her work in science communications.

Rebecca Paszkiewicz

PhD Graduate

Rebecca Paszkiewicz graduated from the University of Iowa with a bachelor of arts in chemistry. As an undergraduate, she completed an honors thesis determining whether skin color could affect blood sugar level measured using a laser rather than a drop of blood. Rebecca then worked in a cancer and obesity laboratory at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles before joining the PhD program at Cedars-Sinai. Under the mentorship of Richard Bergman, PhD, she returned to the world of diabetes and has studied effects of weight-loss surgery on glucose metabolism in hopes of better understanding why these surgeries reverse Type 2 diabetes, independent of weight loss. Rebecca plans to continue studying diabetes in the lab and helping patients with diabetes in the clinic.

Tom Thomas

PhD Graduate

Tom Thomas obtained his bachelor of science in physiological sciences from UCLA, where he worked with Jake Lusis, PhD, studying genetic networks in complex metabolic syndromes. He came to Cedars-Sinai and focused on brain tumor metabolism in the laboratory of John S. Yu, MD, at the Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute. During his doctoral work, Tom uncovered metabolic alterations in high-grade gliomas that allow brain tumors to adapt to changing environmental conditions and resist most therapeutic interventions in the clinic. He described mechanisms of metabolic plasticity in cancer stem cells within brain tumors as part of the developmental process of primary gliomas. Tom plans to continue this research with a focus on modeling tumor evolution and progression from a metabolic perspective during his postdoctoral fellowship in the Toker Laboratory at Harvard Medical School starting this fall.

Oana Dumitrascu

MS Graduate

Before joining the Cedars-Sinai Graduate Programs, Oana Dumitrascu completed medical school and resident training in ophthalmology in Romania, followed by a neuro-ophthalmology fellowship at Jules Stein Eye Institute, UCLA. Oana subsequently completed a neurology residency at Cedars-Sinai, and a fellowship in vascular neurology and cerebrovascular disorders at Mayo Clinic. She conducted her research training in a murine model of multiple sclerosis in the laboratory of Homayon Ghiasi, PhD, and performed clinical research in vascular neurology with Patrick Lyden, MD. Oana plans to continue her career as a clinical scientist in vascular neurology and neuro-ophthalmology.

Yesol Sapozhnikov

MS Graduate

Yesol Sapozhnikov obtained her bachelor of science degree in biochemistry and a master of science degree in nursing from UCLA. She joined Cedars-Sinai as a staff nurse in the bone marrow transplant unit and is currently working as a medical-surgical nursing education program coordinator. Under the mentorship of Mark Goodarzi, MD, PhD, she is completing her master of science degree project studying a genomewide association with lipid traits.