Meet Our PhD Program Students



I'm a graduate student in the Ruffell lab where I study the molecular pathways of immune suppression in dendritic cells in the tumor microenvironment.

Major Professor:  Brian Ruffell, PhD




The mission of the Marusyk Lab is to understand the development of therapy resistance from eco-evolutionary angle, considering both changes occurring in tumor cells, as well as influences of the tumor microenvironment. My research focuses on understanding the evolutionary paths cancer cells take to become resistant to therapeutic agents and exploring ways to prevent this resistance.

Major Professor: Andriy Marusyk, PhD


Major Professor: First-year rotations




In the Rejniak lab, we use mathematical modeling and computational simulations to investigate the biomechanics of normal vs. tumor-like tissue morphogenesis, micro fluids in drug delivery, and biophysics of tumor microenvironment. In particular, I am interested in studying how the properties of the tumor microenvironment influence cancer cells’ decision-making. Specifically, my research focuses on the role of some immune cells, fibroblasts, metabolic conditions, and physicochemical properties of tumor stroma in promoting micro invasions in ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).

Major Professor: Katarzyna Rejniak, PhD


My lab combines the principles of biochemistry, protein engineering, and structural biology to elucidate the molecular mechanisms that govern cancer origination, progression, and perpetuation. My research focuses on: (1) mechanistically understanding how ubiquitin and structurally related ubiquitin-like (UBLs) protein modifications regulate the function, conformation, and activity of their targets, and (2) how alterations and crosstalk between ubiquitin and UBL pathways disrupt cellular homeostasis leading to oncogenic transformation.

Major Professor: Jennifer Binning, PhD


I'm a mathematical and theoretical evolutionary biologist with an interest in using rigorous mathematics to understand oncology, ecology, and the connections between them. My work revolves around developing mathematical tools to understand eco-evolutionary dynamics in a wide range of problems, from therapeutic resistance in cancer to the evolution of life on earth.

Major Professor: Joel Brown, PhD


Our lab focuses on understanding p53 and its family members (p63 and p73). We aim to understand the complexity of this gene family to potentially design targeted therapies for cancer patients harboring mutations in the p53 family of genes. My research is focused on identifying the roles of long non-coding RNAs (IncRNAs) whose expression is controlled by TAp63 (p63 isoform) and correlates with breast cancer evolution and tumor grade.

Major Professor: Elsa Flores, PhD


Emerging evidence shows that cancer-associated fibroblasts can provide a strong protection against targeted therapies. However, how this protection impacts the ultimate clinical relapse remains unclear. My thesis work aims at resolving this puzzle! 

Major Professor: Andriy Marusyk, PhD


My research is focused on the MDSC immunosuppression can be altered by modulating fucose levels and how this will affect the outcome of immunotherapies in breast cancer.

Major Professor: Eric Lau, PhD


The Padron lab studies Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukemia (CMML). My project focuses on finding novel drug combinations that could help treat CMML and determining the mechanism that drives synergy in these combinations.

Major Professor: Eric Padron, MD

Daniel GDaniel

Daniel joined the Cancer Biology PhD program in 2020 in the Integrated Mathematical Oncology Department. He is using mathematical modeling to develop a Bayesian progression risk score, which predicts the probability that a patient will progress on treatment before their next scheduled visit.

Major Professor: Heiko Enderling, PhD, IMO



We are currently looking at the role of mitochondrial unfolded protein response on melanoma and the tumor microenvironment. I also do bioinformatic analysis on genetic and transcriptomic data.

Major Professor: Paulo Rodriguez, PhD


In the Gomes lab, we focus on how the aging process shapes the tumorigenic process. My research focuses on the role of circulatory changes in the aged host in modulating anti-cancer drug efficacy and therapy resistance.

Major Professor: Ana Gomes, PhD


My project focuses on improving efficacy of CAR-T cell therapies through the understanding of CD28 co-stimulatory signaling pathway.

Major Professor: Daniel Abate-Daga, PhD


I am interested in T cell biology and the ways how metabolic and signaling pathways could be manipulated in order to improve cell-based immunotherapies against cancer. My research focuses on the role of NKG2D/DAP10 signaling in T cell memory formation and metabolic fitness.

Major Professor: Jose Alejandro Guevara, MD, PhD

Elliott MedinaElliot 

Our lab uses structural biology, directed evolution, and protein engineering to explore how cells communicate with one another. My current interest is in how cell-cell communication gives rise to polarity within tissues, and how dysregulation of this can promote aberrant proliferation, invasiveness, and metastasis in cancer.

Major Professor: Vince Luca, PhD


My research focuses on bringing a novel strategy to target breast cancer brain metastasis by dissecting the role of fucosylated proteins secreted by brain met-associated fibroblasts.

Major Professor: Eric Lau, PhD


Major Professor: First-year rotations




Our lab studies how the transcription factor NRF2 impacts tumorigenesis and metabolic deregulation in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and pancreatic cancer. My research uses genetically engineered mouse models to understand how NRF2’s negative regulator, KEAP1, affects NSCLC progression when mutated.

Major Professor: Gina DeNicola, PhD


Research Interests:  Immuno-oncology, PI3K/Akt/NrP2 ARE, CAR T cells

Major Professor:  Paulo Rodriguez, PhD


Jie - RET studentJie 

My research focus on metabolism in myeloid cells and its role in promoting breast tumor therapeutic resistance.

Major Professor: Brian Ruffell, PhD



Our lab aims to identify novel genetic and epigenetic biomarkers of cancer that will inform the assessments of cancer risk, the detection of early-stage cancers, and the response and outcomes of patients. My current research focuses on characterizing cell-free DNA methylation signatures in prostate cancer patients to determine potential biomarkers that can inform predictions of treatment response and prognosis.

Major Professor: Liang Wang, MD, PhD


Major Professor: First-year rotations




My research aims to better understand how TBK1 drives oncogenesis in non-small cell lung cancer. My interests are focused on combining novel therapeutic strategies to target solid tumors with immune system engagement to enhance treatment efficacy and prevent resistance.

Major Professor:  TBA


Research Interests: Molecular oncology, Gene regulation

Major Professor:  Florian Karreth, PhD



My research focuses on how the tumor microenvironment in the bone facilitate metastasis. I will specifically look at how mesenchymal stromal cells contribute to bone metastasis.

Major Professor: Conor Lynch, PhD



The Pilon-Thomas lab focuses on adoptive cell therapy (ACT) using tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) for the treatment of solid tumors. My current research focuses on chemoablation of solid tumors and the potential role this plays in driving the expansion of different subtypes of TIL.

Major Professor: Shari Pilon-Thomas, PhD


My research focuses on the evolution of resistance to targeted therapies in NSCLC. Specifically, I aim to develop mathematical and computational models to determine how this resistance emerges due to combinations of genetic and epigenetic factors, and how it can be prevented.

Major Professor: David Basanta, PhD


In the Brohl lab, we focus on the role of the chromosome 19 microRNA cluster (C19MC) in cancer, which is a group of 46 microRNAs spanning across 100 kb of the human genome. On the physiological level, this cluster is exclusively expressed in the placental tissue, where it acts as a regulator of trophoblast migration, as well as confers resistance to viral infection at the maternal-fetal interface. Additionally, this cluster has been hypothesized to act as an immunomodulatory unit, protecting the developing fetus from being seen as foreign by the mother’s immune system. In the oncogenic context, overexpression of this cluster has been found in some rare and difficult-to-treat pediatric cancers, as well as more common cancers, such as breast cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma, and melanoma. My research has two goals: 1) To define how overexpression of the cluster creates a tumor more fit to survive through changes to the tumor phenotype, and 2) to study the immunomodulation of T lymphocytes in the C19MC-overexpressed tumor microenvironment.

Major Professor: Andrew Brohl, MD


Major Professor: First-year rotations




My research focuses on skeletal cancer dormancy and possible mechanisms that regulate the switch from dormancy to cancer activation.

Major Professor: Conor Lynch, PhD




My lab uses the tools of synthetic organic chemistry, medicinal chemistry, and chemical biology to develop small molecules for studying and modulating therapeutically relevant cancer targets. My research is focused on the development of selective CDK11 inhibitors for the treatment of breast cancer.

Major Professor: Andrii Monastyrskyi, PhD


I am interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying melanoma development and metastasis. I focus on signal transduction and the development of mouse models to understand melanomagenesis.

Major Professor: Florian Karreth, PhD



NicolMy Lab is focused on combining innovative mouse modeling strategies with various biochemistry and molecular biology techniques to characterize the interaction of non-coding RNAs and oncogenic signaling in tumor initiation, progression, metastasis, and drug resistance. In particular, my project is focused on studying the role of circular RNAs in melanoma development and progression.

Major Professor: Florian Karreth, PhD

Nina ObertoppNina

My research aims to improve adoptive cell therapy using tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) for head and neck cancer patients by using individualized radiotherapy in combination with immune-checkpoint inhibition.

Major Professor: Shari Pilon-Thomas, PhD



My research focus lies in unraveling the mechanism of HDAC inhibitors in preventing Osteosarcoma. Also, understanding molecular interactions involved in bone metastatic cancers. I focus on epigenetics, signal transduction, mouse models of cancer metastasis and cancer therapeutics. 

Major Professor: Conor Lynch, PhD


Recently, Follicle Stimulating Hormone Receptor (FSHR) was found to be expressed exclusively in almost all ovarian cancer subtypes. Targeting FSHR+ tumors with a newly developed Chimeric Endocrine Receptor (CER) T cell decreased tumor volume and extended life of mice in both PDX and solid tumor models. My project focuses on engineering and developing a new FSH-CER T cell that can withstand the harsh tumor microenvironment and outperform previous designs. My central hypothesis is that the TME is outcompeting FSH-CER T cells for nutrients resulting in T cell quiescence. I’m engineering CERs to outcompete cancer cells for nutrients or alternatively consume other nutrients within the tumor microenvironment.

Major Professor: Marco Davila, MD, PhD 


My project focuses on evaluating the efficacy of combining immune checkpoint inhibitors with cytotoxic agents to promote anti-tumor immunity in castration-resistant prostate cancer.

Major Professor: Brian Ruffell, PhD



My research focuses on the toxicities associated with CAR T cell therapy. CAR T cell administration to patients exacerbates their cytokine milieu that leads to the onset of cytokine release syndrome (CRS) and immune cell-associated neurotoxicity (ICAN). My aim is to delineate the underlying mechanism behind these CAR T cell associated toxicities and explore the role of immune components such as regulatory T cells in this process.

Major Professor:  Marco Davila, MD, PhD


Major Professor: First-year rotations




My research focuses on the role of inflammation in altering the sensitivity to targeted therapies.

Major Professor: Andriy Marusyk, PhD



Research Interests: cellular signaling pathways and post-translational modifications in cancer biology

Major Professor: Eric Lau, PhD



Research Interests: Drug Discovery

Major ProfessorUwe Rix, PhD



Research Interests: Mathematical Oncology

Major Professor:  Alexander Anderson, PhD




Cancer is driven by natural selection at a cellular level. Phenotypic heterogeneity within the tumor microenvironment enables the emergence of drug resistance and relapse. Understanding the genetic and developmental cues that lead to phenotypic variation is key to understanding cancer evolution. Under Dr. Joel Brown, I hope to understand cancer evolution through a mathematical lens and develop therapeutic regimens that can tackle this problem.

Major Professor: Joel Brown, PhD


My research focuses on the immunological consequences of radiation, with the use of calibrated mathematical models of tumor growth and tumor-immune dynamics. Utilizing various theoretical analysis techniques and computational methods I will investigate whether harnessing these consequences could improve patient response to radiotherapy and immunotherapy.

Major Professor: Heiko Enderling, PhD


Our lab combines biochemistry, protein engineering, and structural biology principles to elucidate the molecular mechanisms that govern cancer origination, progression, and perpetuation. My research focuses on: (1) mechanistically understanding human deglycation enzymes regulate the function and activity of their targets and (2) how glycation alters or changes other protein modifications and the implications of these disturbances on oncogenic transformation.

Major Professor:  Jennifer Binning, PhD

Sae Bom

My research focuses on exploring chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T- cell therapy to treat cancers. I focus on understanding of signal transduction triggered by CAR to ultimately design the efficient receptors with increased persistence and decreased exhaustion in vivo models of cancer.

Major Professor: Marco Davila, MD, PhD


Major Professor: First-year rotations




The Hwu Lab's research focuses on overcoming roadblocks for CAR T-cells in solid tumors, more specifically: the lack of tumor-antigen specificity which poses a high risk of reaction with healthy tissues ("on-target/off-tumor" toxicity); the highly immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment (TME); and cancer-mediated nutrient starvation along with production of toxic metabolites which shut down effector CAR T-cells. My research project involves creating CAR T-cell therapy for Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) that targets the co-inhibitory molecule, B7-H4. We also will be utilizing the highly immunosuppressive TME of TNBC by incorporating fusion switch receptors that will convert an inhibitory signal from the TME into a positive, activating signal for the CAR T-cell.

Major Professor: Dr. Patrick Hwu


My research focuses on optimizing Adoptive Cell Therapy (ACT) with Tumor Infiltrating Lymphocytes (TIL) for bladder cancer. I will be combining intravesical instillation of TIL with cancer vaccines, chemotherapy, and other techniques to improve TIL products and anti-tumor response.

Major Professor: Dr. Shari Pilon-Thomas


Research Interests – Main focus is in drug discovery, and the development of small molecules for studying and modulating therapeutically relevant cancer targets.

Major Professor: Andrii Monastyrskyi, PhD



Research Interests:  Immunology

Major Professor: Paulo Rodriguez, PhD



Research Interests: Main focus is in drug discovery, protein engineering and structural biology in the field of cancer.

Major Professor: Vince Luca, PhD



My research interest focuses on the use of mass spectrometry-based proteomics and metabolomics to improve treatment for multiple myeloma. My current work explores the surface proteome of myeloma cells with the goal of identifying novel targets for immunotherapy, as well as developing biomarkers to predict therapy response.

Major Professors: Ken Shain, MD, PhD and John Koomen, PhD


Thomas is a PhD candidate interested in evolutionary game theory (EGT). His work combines EGT and single-cell sequencing to understand how cell-cell interactions shape population structure in gastric cancers. Before coming to Moffitt, Thomas completed his undergraduate degree in Applied Mathematics at USF. With his PhD work, he hopes to contribute to a better understanding of how divergent populations within a tumor compete and cooperate while exposed to variable environments, such as DNA damaging therapies. 

Major Professor: Noemi Andor, PhD


I am part of the Abate-Daga research group. Our team generates and studies genetically modified immune cells (CAR-T cells) that recognize and fight a variety of tumor cells. In particular, my research project focuses on gamma-delta T cells, a less common T cell subtype, that exhibit promising features for their implementation as adoptive cell therapies. We are investigating the cellular processes that distinguish gamma-delta T cells from other subtypes and modifying signaling pathways to optimize their antitumoral activity.

Major Professor: Daniel Abate-Daga, PhD