Meet the new graduate student class at Sanford Burnham Prebys

| Written by Monica May
2020 SBP graduate students

Get to know the biomedical researchers of the future

Although Sanford Burnham Prebys has spent more than four decades fostering a reputation for excellence in basic biomedical research, our Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences is relatively young. Founded in 2005, the program’s mission is to educate and train students to become the innovative biomedical scientists of the future.

“This year’s group of graduate students will work on ambitious projects that will help us learn about the biology of aging, the origins of cancer and more,” says Guy Salvesen, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. “I look forward to seeing what these talented individuals will accomplish in the coming years under the guidance of our dedicated faculty.”

Meet this year’s incoming class of graduate students and learn about the bold projects they will undertake while at the Institute—and what drives them personally.

Sviatlana Zaretski (Hansen lab)

Sviatlana Zaretski
“When I’m not in the lab, I can
be found on the beach or in
the park with my family.” 

Sviatlana Zaretski began interning in the lab of Malene Hansen, Ph.D., as an undergraduate at University of California, San Diego. This led to a lifelong fascination with autophagy, a cellular recycling process that plays an important role in aging—the single greatest risk factor for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer and diabetes.

After graduation, Zaretski continued this work as a research assistant in the lab. Now, as a graduate student, she will build upon the knowledge she has gained to date to decipher the molecular changes that occur during aging and how they alter autophagy. This work could unlock new ways to slow the aging process and promote healthy aging.



Rema Iyer (Deshpande lab)

Rema Iyer
"What I love most about
research is that I get to use my
passion for science to help
people. And with a Ph.D., I can
have even more impact."

Rema Iyer joins the graduate program with more than a decade of experience working in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries—including roles at Eli Lilly, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, GNF and AnaptysBio. Across these positions, her focus remained on preclinical drug discovery and drug engineering—with the goal of ensuring medicines are safe and effective in the human body.

As a graduate student in Ani Deshpande’s lab, Iyer will work to understand the role of epigenetics—chemical tags placed on DNA that alter gene expression—in cancers like acute myeloid leukemia. Her hope is that this work will lead to therapies that are meaningful to people with these cancers.



Utkarsha Paithane (Bagchi lab)

Utkarsha Paithane
“One of my favorite moments
in my life is when my first DNA
experiment in my undergrad
worked. I was so proud!”

Utkarsha Paithane obtained an integrated bachelor’s and master’s degree in biotechnology from Amity University in India. She then went on to obtain a master’s degree at Keck Graduate Institute in California, where she worked to determine how non-small-cell lung cancer develops resistance to a targeted treatment called erlotinib.

As a graduate student in the lab of Anindya Bagchi, Ph.D., Paithane will work to uncover genetic mutations that contribute to cancer initiation, which could lead to treatments that prevent cancers from developing.



Adarsh Rajesh (Adams lab)

Adarsh Rajesh
Rajesh is interested in
combining bioinformatics and
cell biology to understand

Adarsh Rajesh first connected with Sanford Burnham Prebys when he worked as an assistant in the lab of Peter Adams, Ph.D., studying cellular senescence, a sleeplike state of aged cells. Now, as a graduate student in the Adams lab, Rajesh will investigate the impact of epigenetics—chemical tags placed on DNA that alter gene expression—on cellular senescence, aging and cancer.

Rajesh is interested in combining bioinformatics techniques and cell biology to unlock the cellular mechanisms that drive aging and age-associated diseases—which could lead to treatments that promote healthy aging or prevent age-associated diseases.



Cedomir (Ceda) Stamenkovic (Sacco lab)

Cedomir (Ceda) Stamenkovic
“I’ve always been fascinated
by the living world. I was
interested in both biology as
well as ecology, but I chose
biology because of its ability to
advance health and medicine.
That’s very important to me.”

Ceda Stamenkovic completed his undergraduate studies at University of California, San Diego, where he majored in neuroscience and physiology. After graduation, he worked in several neuroscience research labs studying the brain’s response to opioids and reward behavior.

As a graduate student in the lab of Alessandra Sacco, Ph.D., Stamenkovic shifts his focus to muscle stem cells and how they degrade due to natural aging or muscular dystrophy. This work could lead to muscle-boosting treatments that help people maintain muscle mass as they age, or help people living with muscular dystrophy.






Learn more about the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

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