Rising Stars Symposium

3rd annual postdoctoral diversity recruiting event
rising Stars image, hand holding lit lightbulb in front of starry sky

Date and time

May 2, 2024

9:00 AM - 6:00 PM PT


Sanford Burnham Prebys

Fishman Auditorium
10901 N. Torrey Pines Road
La Jolla, CA 92037


About the symposium

DEI logo

The Rising Stars Symposium showcases the biomedical research of exceptional postdoctoral candidates from across the country. Candidate selections are based on academic achievements, research scholarship and alignment of research interests with Sanford Burnham Prebys laboratories.

We invite you to apply for this valuable career, networking and professional development event. The symposium will also serve as a recruitment event for those seeking postdoctoral opportunities for:

  • Late-stage doctoral students who are less than two years from completing their Ph.D. program
  • Early-stage postdoctoral researchers who are no more than two years post-degree

Over the three days, selected candidates will:

  • Present their research in an oral format
  • Attend a networking reception with other students, postdoctoral researchers and faculty
  • Participate in a leadership development session
  • Tour laboratories and core facilities
  • Meet with faculty to learn about career opportunities at the Institute

Travel, lodging, and meals will be paid by Sanford Burnham Prebys. This event is hosted by the NCI-designated Cancer Center at Sanford Burnham Prebys and the DEIB Council. Scholars from underrepresented groups in the sciences are strongly encouraged to apply as we strive to increase the visibility of diverse future leaders in biomedical research.

If you have any questions, please contact Lauren Mitchell, DEIB Program Manager, at



Thursday, May 2 Rising Stars Symposium
9 – 9:05am Welcoming Remarks
David A. Brenner, M.D.

President and Chief Executive Officer
Donald Bren Chief Executive Chair
9:05 – 9:10am Keynote Introduction
Ani Deshpande, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Cancer Genome and Epigenetics Program
Associate Director, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
NCI-Designated Cancer Center
9:10 – 10:15am Keynote Address
Thomas Martinez, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences
UC Irvine
10:15 – 10:30am Coffee Break
10:30am – 11:50am Morning Session
Moderator: Lale Cecchini, Ph.D.
  • 10:30 - Olabisi Osunmakinde
  • 10:50 - Rebecca Mello
  • 11:10 - Mario Alba
  • 1130 - Catherine Rono
11:50am – 1pm Lunch
Chairmen's Hall
1:10 – 2:30pm Afternoon Session I
Moderator: Evelyn Sanchez Hernandez, Ph.D.
  • 1:10 - Oluwatosin Obisesan
  • 1:30 - Jovita Ogechi Daraezinwa
  • 1:50 - Evan Jovon Morrison
  • 2:10 - Timothy Tan
2:30 – 2:50pm Coffee Break
2:50 – 4:10pm Afternoon Session II
Moderator: Jessica Proulx, Ph.D.
  • 2:50 - Mélise Edwards
  • 3:10 - Rameen Shah, Ph.D.
  • 3:30 - Myeshia Shelby
  • 3:50 - Jonathan Molina
4:10 – 4:15pm Closing Remarks
Caroline Kumsta, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Development, Aging and Regeneration Program
Member, Cancer Metabolism and Microenvironment Program
Associate Dean of Student Affairs, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences
4:30 – 6pm Reception
Chairmen's Hall and Terrace


Keynote Speaker

Thomas Martínez, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences
UC Irvine

"Building your niche in research and the community"

Prof. Thomas Martinez received his B.S. in Biological Engineering from MIT. He then received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry & Molecular Biophysics from Caltech as an NIH NRSA predoctoral fellow under the mentorship of Prof. Peter Dervan. His thesis work focused on characterizing the effects of DNA binding pyrrole-imidazole polyamides on DNA replication in prostate cancer. Dr. Martinez then joined Prof. Alan Saghatelian’s group at the Salk Institute as an NIH NRSA postdoctoral fellow. There he developed an integrative platform combining ribosome profiling, de novo transcriptome assembly, mass spectrometry, and bioinformatics to annotate small open reading frame-encoded microproteins. This recently uncovered class of small proteins has since been shown to participate in a diverse array of critical biological processes in health and disease. Currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at UC Irvine, his research group focuses primarily on the discovery and functional characterization of microproteins in cancer and is also exploring their roles in metabolism and aging. As an underrepresented minority and first generation college graduate, Dr. Martinez is committed to outreach efforts aimed at increasing the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds pursuing higher education and careers in STEM fields. He currently serves as Vice Chair of the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences’ Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee.

Postdoctoral Prospects

Olabisi Osunmakinde
Ph.D. candidate
University of South Florida, Moffitt Cancer Center
Ruffell Lab

"Investigating cholesterol transfer between macrophages and prostate cancer cells"

Prostate cancer is the most common malignancy among men and one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Androgen hormones drive prostate cancer proliferation and progression. Olabisi is investigating how macrophages facilitate prostate cancer progression via cholesterol transfer, as this molecule is essential for androgen production.

Rebecca Mello
Ph.D. candidate
The Scripps Research Institute
Lamia Lab

"BMAL1-HIF2α heterodimers contribute to clear cell renal cell carcinoma"

Circadian rhythms play important roles in many aspects of health. Circadian disruption, such as that experienced by night-shift workers, is linked to increased risk of developing certain types of cancer. The mechanisms underlying this link remain poorly understood. Mello is investigating the contribution of circadian-hypoxic crosstalk to this phenomenon, in the context of HIF2α-stabilized clear cell renal cell carcinoma.

Mario Alba
Ph.D. candidate
University of Southern California
Stiles Lab

"Hepatic steatosis induced by bioactive lipids regulated by AKT specific isoforms"

Alba focuses on liver disease with an emphasis on liver cancer and the metabolic dysregulation happening during disease progression. He studies eicosanoid metabolism and the loss of balance between pro-resolving and pro-inflammatory eicosanoid synthesis during liver cancer progression. To drive this research, he primarily uses proteomics and targeted lipidomic panels along with integrating data from the proteomic data commons.

Catherine Rono
Ph.D. candidate
Michigan Technological University
Tang Lab

"Identifying and exploiting metabolic vulnerabilities to target LKB1-mutant cancers"

Targeting metabolic deregulation offers a promising avenue of urgent need for personalized therapies tailored to the genetic and molecular differences of individual patients. Rono is studying Liver Kinase B1 (LKB1), a pivotal regulator of cellular metabolism and tumor suppression which is frequently mutated in cancers and is associated with accelerated tumor progression. Her research uncovers innovative therapies for LKB1-mutant cancer.

Oluwatosin Obisesan
Ph.D. candidate, Lyman T. Johnson Fellow
University of Kentucky
Awuah Lab

"Development of a pyrazole-based MYC inhibitor that inhibits intracellular MYC-MAX heterodimerization and induces cell death"

Obisesan focuses on the chemical biology of intrinsically disordered proteins and their role in pathologies. Intrinsically disordered proteins play crucial roles in the regulation of several cellular processes. The aberrant functioning of these proteins has been reported in different cancers. Obisesan studies the mechanisms underlying the involvement of intrinsically disordered proteins in cancer progression to develop targeted therapies.

Jovita Ogechi Daraezinwa
Ph.D. candidate
University of Kentucky
Awuah Lab

"Mechanistic targeting of SHP2 with small molecule peptidomimetic"

Daraezinwa's research interest is in medicinal chemistry, particularly in the mechanistic targeting of the SHP 2 protein in cancers. Her graduate research focuses on identifying promising small molecules for SHP 2 depletion, which has shown potential as an innovative cancer treatment. Daraezinwa has core skills in organic synthesis and compound characterization, as well as additional expertise in molecular docking and modeling.

Evan Jovon Morrison
Ph.D. candidate, HHMI Gilliam Fellow
University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus
Rissland Lab

"UBR4 mediates the quality control of a METAP2 dependent Arg/N-degron pathway"

All proteins are destined to be degraded. The rate at which proteins are degraded is central to the amount of gene expression there is and the dynamics of that expression. Morrison has discovered and is characterizing a novel N-degron pathway in human cells, which may help us understand how some genes are dysregulated during disease.

Timothy Tan
Ph.D. candidate
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Wu Lab

"Engineering the core fusion machinery of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein for vaccine immunogen design"

Contemporary protein engineering techniques for therapeutics are often low-throughput, time-consuming and costly. Using SARS-CoV-2 spike protein as proof-of-concept, Tan develops high-throughput experimental tools to accelerate bespoke protein design for vaccines and immunotherapy. These methods are also useful for tracking potential variants that can evade host immunity. Tan recently published a study on challenges to universal SARS-CoV-2 vaccine development due to antigenic drift.

Mélise Edwards
Ph.D. candidate
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Babbitt Lab

"Letrozole treatment alters hippocampal gene expression in common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus)"

Aromatase inhibitors (AIs) are commonly given to patients with estrogen receptor-positive breast cancers to reduce estrogenic stimulation. AIs like Letrozole are associated with severe side effects such as cognitive deficits and sleep disturbances which can deter patients from continuing treatment. Edwards studies the mechanisms underlying these central nervous system deficits to inform novel therapies and improve patient outcomes.

Rameen Shah
Postdoctoral Fellow
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
Morava-Kozicz Lab

"ALG13-CDG brain organoids exhibit glycosylation defects and altered gene expression, providing insights into neuronal pathology"

Patients suffering from rare congenital disorders of glycosylation often have debilitating neurological symptoms. There is a lack of understanding regarding their pathomechanism due to limited neurological model systems. In our lab, we establish brain organoid models and examine the neuronal pathology underlying these diseases through a multiomics approach. This new mechanistic understanding will guide the development of therapeutics for these disorders.

Myeshia Shelby
Ph.D. candidate
Howard University College of Medicine
Nwulia-Misiak Lab

"A translational approach to Apo-E4 polymorphism interplay with blood glucose levels and olfactory performance as early indicators of cognitive decline"

Alzheimer's disease is the fifth-leading cause of death among elderly Americans and is associated with sensory decline prior to disease onset. The detection of unique biomarkers could provide therapeutic targets for disease management. Shelby’s work explores APOE heterogeneity and increased blood glucose levels in the onset of olfactory dysfunction as an early hallmark of memory decline and cognitive impairment.

Jonathan Molina
Ph.D. candidate
University of Notre Dame
Flores-Mireles Lab

"Host fibrinolytic-deficiencies exacerbate catheter-associated UTI severity and septicemia from mono- and poly-microbial infections"

Molina focuses on catheter-associated urinary tract infections, which are the most common cause of healthcare associated infection worldwide. His research aims to dissect the inflammatory response that urinary catheterization causes to the host bladder and how that response interacts with various pathogens. Doing so could uncover novel pathways and potentially treatments to mitigate infections.

Rising Stars Symposium 2024

Celebrating amazing science and scientists

Previous Rising Stars Symposia

2023 2022 



Postdoctoral Training at Sanford Burnham Prebys