For more than 15 years, the Minority Medical Student Award Program (MMSAP) has provided under-represented minority medical students with an opportunity to engage in an eight-to-12-week hematology-related research project under the guidance of ASH member mentors. This year, 16 students from the United States and Canada enrolled in DO, MD, or MD/PhD programs, took part in the Summer Research Experience, Flexible Research Experience, 0r Yearlong Research Experience.
This year’s spotlight awardee is Yearlong Experience participant Joab Camarena at the Stanford School of Medicine who described his foundation in medical science, ongoing passion for in vivo genome editing, and experience as a mentee. He also shares how his work fits into the broader goal of bringing this treatment technology to the patients who need it most.
Joab Camarena — Stanford School of Medicine; Immune Cloaking of SaCas9 to Enhance in vivo saCas9-AAV6–Mediated Gene Editing; Research Mentor: Matthew Porteus, MD; Career Development Mentor: Arturo Molina, MD
“During my time as an undergraduate at Stanford, I began working with Dr. Matthew Porteus, an expert in gene therapy and pediatric hematologic disease. There, I learned how to use CRISPR to edit the genomes of diseased blood stem cells and helped contribute to the development of a CRISPR-based genome editing strategy to be used as a curative treatment for sickle cell disease. Ultimately, the opportunity to apply these advances in genome editing has made the field of hematology an incredibly exciting place for me.
“Given my past research experiences, I am motivated to continue pushing the boundaries of blood stem cell biology and blood stem cell gene engineering. My research project aims to hide the presence of Cas9 protein, a genome-editing reagent, from immune surveillance by co-opting viral mechanisms for evading immunity. This research has the potential to open the door to the next breakthrough in gene therapy for blood disorders and to make in vivo gene therapy a more viable treatment approach.
“Delivering genome editing tools directly into the body to edit a patient’s own cells in vivo has the potential to provide off-the-shelf therapy for almost every form of genetic disease. In vivo genome editing offers substantial advantages over ex vivo genome editing as intravenous injection of a gene therapy avoids the need to isolate and extract cells from the patient, only to then transplant these edited cells back into the patient to treat their disease. This project attempts to confront the barriers of the immune response associated with in vivo gene therapy, allowing for more standardized off-the-shelf reagents that are more affordable and accessible to patients.
“I have had an incredibly fortunate research experience during my time in the Porteus lab. My mentors, Dr. Porteus and Dr. Daniel Dever, have continually pushed me to become the scientist I am today. [While this] initially started as my honors thesis project as an undergraduate, my efforts toward developing a gene therapy for sickle cell disease has culminated into the first in-human clinical trial using a CRISPR/Cas9–adeno-associated virus gene correction therapy for sickle cell disease. Such an experience has even allowed me to meet a patient with sickle cell disease from the same neighborhood where I grew up, and to explain the gene curative process I helped refine using his own cells.
“MMSAP has been an opportunity to surround myself with, and learn from, mentors and colleagues. It has also served as an opportunity to continue developing my passion for hematopoietic stem cell biology and to develop curative treatments for some of the world’s most common genetic blood disorders. My experiences in research have only been made possible because of the support I have received along the way from programs and organizations with missions similar to that of MMSAP, and I hope one day to be serving as an MMSAP mentor for the next generation of hematologists.”
Summer Experience Participants
Dalina Laffita — Florida Atlantic University; Evaluation of Low Dose Radiation Therapy Alongside CAR T Cell Therapy As a Therapeutic Treatment for Hematological Cancers; Research Mentor: Ruben Niesvizky, MD; Career Development Mentor: Marco Davila, MD
Christina Onyebuchi — University of Texas Medical Branch; Subanesthetic Ketamine in the Management of Pain in Sickle Cell Disease Patients: A Retrospective Analysis; Research Mentor: Venee Tubman, MD; Career Development Mentor: Titilope Fasipe, MD
Gygeria Manuel — Morehouse School of Medicine; Understanding Barriers to Clinical Trial Enrollment for African American Patients with Lymphoma; Research Mentor: Jonathon Cohen, MD; Career Development Mentor: Leon Bernal-Mizrachi, MD
Mohammad Abubakar — Lincoln Memorial; Targeting U5 snRNP200 for Acute Myeloid Leukemia Therapy; Research Mentor: Omar Abdel-Wahab, MD; Career Development Mentor: Esther Obeng, MD
Uzoamaka Obodo — Lincoln Memorial; Exploratory Analysis of the Association Between Environmental Exposures to Toxins and Acute SCD Hospitalizations; Research Mentor: John Strouse, MD; Career Development Mentor: Kenneth Ataga, MBBS, MD
Flex Experience Participants
Halimat Olaniyan — University of Cincinnati; Point of Care Testing for Sickle Cell Anemia in sub-Saharan Africa; Research Mentor: Patrick McGann, MD; Career Development Mentor: Punam Malik, MD
Amissa Sei — Morehouse School of Medicine; Increasing Transduction Efficiency through Expansion of Stem Cells via Nicotinamide; Research Mentor: Allistair Abraham, MD; Career Development Mentor: Margo Rollins, MD
Natasha Stanley — Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine; A Prospective Observational Study of the Safety of COVID-19 Vaccination in Patients with Acquired Aplastic Anemia (AA) in Remission; Research Mentor: Daria Babushok, MD, PhD; Career Development Mentor: Kim Smith-Whitley, MD
Jasmin Martin — American University of Antigua; Identifying Novel Anti-sickling Drugs; Research Mentor: David Bodine, MD; Career Development Mentor: Courtney Fitzhugh, MD
Joshua Lara — Texas Tech University Health Science Center El Paso; Targeting the Non-ATPase Proteasome Subunit, PSMD3, in Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML); Research Mentor: Anna Eiring, PhD; Career Development Mentor: Francisco Vega-Vasquez, MD, PhD
Sarah Addison — Ohio State College of Medicine; Identifying Disparities in Survival Among Older Adults with Multiple Myeloma Based on Rural Versus Urban Residence; Research Mentor: Ashley Rosko, MD; Career Development Mentor: Alison Walker, MD
Trish Ike — Medical College of Wisconsin Affiliated Hospitals; Investigating the Association Between Inflammatory Diet and Pain in Individuals with Sickle Cell Disease; Research Mentor: Amanda Brandow, MD; Career Development Mentor: Laura Michaelis, MD
Oluwalonimi Adebowale — Howard University College of Medicine; PBMC Gene Expression Profiling in Sickle Cell Disease and Red Cell Alloimmunization; Research Mentor: James Taylor, MD; Career Development Mentor: Cindy Dunbar, MD
Sara Bolivar Wagers — University of Minnesota; Enhancing Treg Therapeutic Efficacy in GVHD with CARs; Research Mentor: Bruce Blazar, MD; Career Development Mentor: Nabila N. Bennani, MD
Sierra Atwater — Duke University School of Medicine; Optimizing Clostridium Difficile Diagnoses in High-Risk Hospitalized Pediatric Patients with Hematologic Malignancies or Undergoing Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation; Research Mentor: Kristin Page, MD; Career Development Mentor: Ify Osunkwo, MD, MPH