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Sylvester’s 2024 K12 Scholars

Three new K12 scholars joined five Sylvester K12 faculty scholars dedicated to patient-oriented, translational cancer research at the K12 annual symposium.

2024 K12 scholars Dr. Gretel Terrero, Dr. Marcella Kaddoura and Dr. Noa Holtzman

Since its inception in 2018, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center’s prestigious K12 Calabresi Clinical Oncology Research Career Development Program has awarded 16 junior faculty members with resources to pursue independent research careers in clinical and translational cancer research.

This year’s recipients joined their peers at the program’s annual Calabresi symposium, a June 21 virtual conference that featured presentations from current and former K12 scholars and fostered a collaborative environment for the next generation of oncology leaders.

This Year’s K12 Scholars

Dr. Marcella Kaddoura
Marcella Kaddoura, M.D., assistant professor of clinical medicine in the Division of Myeloma at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

Dr. Kaddoura’s research focus is computational oncology in multiple myeloma, which has limited precision medicine treatment options and is incurable. Using patient samples from clinical trials, Dr. Kaddoura will identify genomic patterns that predict response or resistance to targeted multiple myeloma therapy. Her goal is to improve the use of existing therapies and discover new drug targets.

In the long term, she will use these findings to develop and test a more robust, genomic-based biomarker for venetoclax sensitivity in the clinical space through further investigator-initiated trial development, allowing patients to receive less toxic and more effective treatment options.

Dr. Noa Holtzman
Noa Holtzman, M.D., assistant professor of clinical medicine in the Division of Transplantation and Cellular Therapy

Dr. Holtzman’s research aims to improve outcomes for elderly patients with acute myeloid leukemia undergoing hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HCT).

Dr. Holtzman’s research will focus on immunotherapeutic strategies to leverage natural killer cell reconstitution after HCT to strengthen the transplant’s graft-versus-tumor effect and prevent relapse. This is especially important for the elderly, who can only tolerate reduced-intensity transplant regimens. Dr. Holtzman will also perform comprehensive geriatric assessments to better define frailty measures in this population, providing a more accurate prediction of transplant outcomes than chronologic age for hematologic malignancy patients.

Dr. Gretel Terrero
Gretel Terrero, M.D., assistant professor of clinical medicine in the Division of Medical Oncology

Dr. Terrero’s research centers on understanding the unique tumor microenvironment and genomic characteristics of pancreatic adenocarcinoma (PDAC). She is studying the clinical utility of circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) to recognize the need to adjust frontline therapy in the treatment-naive metastatic PDAC.

The emergence of liquid biopsy techniques, particularly those focusing on ctDNA, represents a promising avenue for personalized medicine in oncology. Dr. Terrero aims to tailor treatment strategies by leveraging the genetic information contained within ctDNA, with the goal of improving outcomes for patients facing this aggressive malignancy.

Beginning Sept. 1, Drs. Kaddoura, Holtzman and Terrero will embark on a two-year, intensive training program funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), which supports fewer than 30 K12 programs nationwide.

“With the unwavering support of Sylvester’s director, Stephen Nimer, M.D., and our dedicated leadership team, we are providing early-stage physician investigators with the time, support and resources to pursue innovative, impactful science, ultimately leading to better patient outcomes,” said Alan Pollack, M.D., Ph.D., K12 chair of radiation oncology at Sylvester and grant principal investigator.

The three physicians will receive dedicated time for research, optimal mentorship, formal education and practical experience in developing hypothesis-driven clinical trials. The goal of their work is to improve cancer care delivery and patient outcomes, with an emphasis on serving the needs of Sylvester patients. 

“We are extremely proud to be among this select group, recognized for our commitment to training the next generation of leaders in clinical and translational cancer research,” said Dr. Pollack. “This year’s scholars, who represent three divisions in the Department of Medicine, impressed us with their passion and potential to advance oncology research.”

The symposium’s keynote speaker, Afshin Dowlati, M.D., associate director for clinical research at Case Comprehensive Cancer Center and a K12 graduate of that institution, shared findings from his research on small cell lung cancer in the context of his career as a physician-scientist.  

Sylvester hematologist Namrata Chandhok, M.D., was one of four K12 graduates from the University of Miami and other institutions who discussed their professional journeys and recent accomplishments during a career development panel. Dr. Chandhok shared lessons learned on the road to receiving a Robert A. Winn Diversity in Clinical Trials: Career Development Award and spoke about her experience treating patients with bone marrow disorders. 

Five active Sylvester K12 scholars presented their ongoing research, demonstrating the exceptional talent fostered by the program:

Katherine Amin, M.D., assistant professor of clinical urology at the Miller School

Benjamin Diamond, M.D., assistant professor of clinical medicine in the Division of Myeloma at the Miller School

Coral Olazagasti, M.D., assistant professor of clinical medicine in the Division of Medical Oncology at the Miller School

Ashish Shah, M.D., assistant professor of neurosurgery at the Miller School

Benjamin Spieler, M.D., assistant professor of radiation oncology at the Miller School

The next Sylvester K12 program event begins September 6. Members of the worldwide clinical cancer research community are invited to participate in the six-week Design and Management of Cancer Clinical Trials Course.

Tags: Dr. Alan Pollack, Dr. Gretel Terrero, Dr. Marcella Kaddoura, Dr. Noa Holtzman, Dr. Stephen Nimer, Paul Calabresi Career Development Award for Clinical Oncology K12, Sylverster Comprehensive Cancer Center, Sylvester K12 Calabresi Symposium