Overview of ECRs
The early career researchers at NexTGen are a highly motivated and passionate team of students, postdocs, and junior researchers at the core of the discoveries being made in this Cancer Grand Challenge. Our discoveries will translate into publications and clinical trials that ultimately impact patients, potentially improving their lives and contributing to society.
As future leaders in cancer research, we bring our expertise, fresh approach and new generation minds to identify and tackle new problems. We are a diverse and international team from around the globe, aiming to contribute to solving the huge challenge that pediatric tumors represent.
Beyond our research, we aim to work closely with the patient advocates to share our knowledge and disseminate user-friendly updates on our research. We are convinced these skills and our science can make a difference for patients and their families in the future.
Meet the Early Career Researchers
Chase D. McCann
Chase D. McCann completed his PhD in Immunology and Microbial Pathogenesis at the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, NY. There his work focused on developing and enhancing T cells therapies targeting the HIV reservoir. After identifying similar mechanisms of resistance to cell- mediated therapies between HIV and cancer, Dr. McCann expanded his work to encompass the development of both virus- and cancer-specific T cell therapies. Dr. McCann currently serves as the Assistant Director of Manufacturing for the Cellular Therapy Laboratory at Children’s National Hospital, where he oversees the cGMP manufacturing of cell-based therapies supporting numerous pediatric-focused clinical trials.
Dr. Amber K. Weiner received her PhD in Genomics and Computational Biology from the University of Pennsylvania and is currently a post-doctoral researcher at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Her research has focused in many areas including mass spectrometry, immunotherapy target discovery, proteogenomic data integration, immunotherapy target validation and drug development in pediatric cancers. In addition, she has focused on developing shiny applications for data release/analysis and advocacy to incorporate young investigators and patient advocates in pediatric cancer research.
Felipe Galvez Cancino
Felipe Galvez-Cancino has a long-standing interest in T and myeloid cell biology. Felipe performed his doctoral studies in Chile at Fundación Ciencia & Vida and as visiting student at Stanford University in the USA. During this time, he focused on understanding the role of tissue-resident memory CD8+ T cells in the immunity against melanoma. Following his Ph.D., Felipe joined Sergio Quezada’s laboratory at UCL in London as a postdoctoral fellow, where he has been developing novel antibody-based immunotherapies for lung and brain cancer.
Lucy is a PhD student working in the Nature Inspired Chemical Engineering (NICE) group in the chemical engineering department at UCL. Working alongside Professor Marc-Olivier Coppens and Dr. Matthew Chin, their research looks to develop novel, nature inspired 3D scaffolds as T-cell culturing environments. As a computational researcher, Lucy has designed various computational pipelines to create and analyze both the scaffolds being 3D printed and the experimental results from the wet lab.
Maria Caterina Rotiroti
Maria Caterina Rotiroti is a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Robbie Majzner’s laboratory at Stanford University. Dr. Rotiroti developed her interest in cancer immunotherapy by joining the Fondazione Tettamanti in Monza, Italy as an undergraduate student. After graduating, she enrolled in a Ph.D. program in Molecular and Translational Medicine (University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy), continuing her research studies on developing CAR T cell therapies for treating acute myeloid leukemia. She is interested in developing innovative strategies to prevent tumor immune escape following adoptive transfer of CAR T cells.
Quinlen F. Marshall is a senior oncology research technician in the lab of John Maris, MD at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania. His work focuses on engineering CAR T cells for pediatric solid tumors targeting intracellular proteins presented on MHC class I. His work has spanned the bench to bedside. Most notably, a CAR T cell product he helped develop is set to enter an early-phase clinical trial for high-risk neuroblastoma at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in 2024. He is also interested in using insights from structural biology to inform immunotherapeutic development.
Dr. Chin is a Research Fellow advised by Prof. Marc-Olivier Coppens at the CNIE & Chemical Engineering, University College London (UCL). He is a bioengineer (Ph.D., UCL; BEng ACGI MSc DIC, Imperial College London) with experience in biomaterials, mechanobiology, microfluidics, mechatronic systems, and computational modelling. His current research focuses on designing and fabricating 3D cell culture platforms to study biophysical T cell interactions within structurally and mechanically complex microenvironments.
My lab studies antigen processing, display, and recognition on class-I proteins of the Major Histocompatibility Complex. The human MHC-I (or, HLA) are the most polymorphic proteins in our genome, which necessitates the development of personalized approaches to address patient diversity in a therapeutic setting. We tackle this problem in two ways: To enhance processing and loading of MHC-I with antigens for display on the cell surface, we have engineered molecular chaperones that are tailored to different HLAs. To recognize specific MHC-I complexes by molecular therapeutics, we are developing peptide-centric receptors by blending protein engineering approaches with structural & in vitro characterization.
Dr. Sandeep Kumar Srivastava, Ph.D., is the Cellular Therapy Laboratory Lead (CTL Lead, Process Development) at Cellular Therapy Laboratory, Centre for Cancer and Immunology Research, Children’s National Hospital, Washington DC. Dr. Srivastava involves several activities such as performing protocol development, process development studies, product validations, and cellular therapy product manufacturing to include novel cellular therapy products for FDA-approved investigational new cancer drug (IND) applications using current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP). Dr. Srivastava received his Ph.D. from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, India.
Richa Kapoor, Ph.D. is an immune-oncology scientist working in the laboratory of John M Maris at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Richa pursued her post-doctoral training in immunology, oncology, and cell & molecular biology at the University of Pennsylvania. She is a passionate researcher engaged in identification of novel targets and developing immunotherapies to treat solid tumors.
Anna is a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Dr. Irving Weissman at Stanford University. A stem cell biologist by training, she is investigating certain forms of pediatric epilepsy as potential models of premalignancy in the brain. Using primary human brain tissue, this research seeks to address gaps in our understanding of early events in brain oncogenesis, including analysis of molecular interactions between glial progenitors and their microenvironment that may favor the expansion of premalignant clones.
Erin is a research scientist in the laboratory of Dr. John Maris at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Her background is in cancer immunotherapy, specifically for solid tumors. Within the Maris lab, her focus has been developing and testing engineered T cells directed toward novel cancer markers. Her work particularly studies the targeting of cancer-associated proteins that reside within the cell, but are presented on the surface through natural mechanism of immune surveillance.
Alastair Hotblack is an immunologist who works on how engineered T cells interact with the tumor microenvironment. He completed his Ph.D. at UCL in 2016, investigating the tumor interaction between engineered T cells and antigen-presenting cells. He then joined the UCL CAR-T cell program as a post-doc, where he established multiple mouse models of CAR-T cell therapies for different brain and other solid tumors. His work will utilize ‘next-generation’ CAR T cells to overcome the hurdles of the suppressive tumor microenvironment in pediatric solid tumors.
I originally completed my Master’s in Animal Sciences focusing on muscle biology before I transitioned to cancer and immunology research. I started working at Children’s National in 2018 after graduate school and have been working under the guidance of Drs. Russell Cruz and Catherine Bollard. My work focuses on generating tumor associated antigen (TAA)-T Cells from healthy donors to combat various brain tumors. Along with generating TAA-T Cells, we are also interested in identifying new and novel tumor targets found in pediatric cancers.
Kajal Chaudhry, Ph.D., is a Staff Scientist at Children's National Hospital, where she is part of the Cell Enhancement and Technologies for Immunotherapy Program (CETI). She earned her PhD in Biomedical Engineering in 2019, with her research focused on understanding the dynamics of anti-tumour responses generated by chimeric antigen receptor-modified immune effector cells in leukemia and neuroblastoma. At CETI lab, her research focused on developing novel immunotherapies to target tumor-associated antigens and manage immune suppressive tumor microenvironment in pediatric solid tumor malignancies.
Stephanie is a postdoctoral research fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Catherine Bollard at the Children’s National Hospital. She earned her PhD at the George Washington University in fall 2023, with her dissertation research focused on immunotherapy, epigenetic therapy, and the tumor microenvironment, in the context of ovarian cancer. Within the Bollard Lab, her focus has been two-fold: 1) assessing immune correlates for a phase 1 clinical trial assessing safety and efficacy of TAA-T cells for the treatment of pediatric brain tumors, and 2) engineering CAR T cells to combat the immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment of pediatric solid tumors, specifically focusing on sarcoma and neuroblastoma.
This article entitled “Co-opting signaling molecules enables logic-gated control of CAR T cells” was published in March 2023.
NexTGen scientists and advocates feature in this article relating to the changing face of the landscape of the childhood cancer sector.
Professor Bertozzi is part of NexTGen work package one, which aims to discover targets for childhood solid tumours.