Current Trainees

Blaine McCarthy, PhD
Mentor: Robert Waymouth and Ronald Levy

Project Title: Project Title: Cancer Therapeutics Enabled by Charge-Altering Releasable Transporters

Blaine’s interest in using chemistry to explore questions in biology and medicine is rooted in her undergraduate research experience wherein she explored synthetic routes to access unnatural amino acids for the study of protein function. Guided by the advisement of Professor Charles Jakobsche, Blaine completed an honors thesis based on this work and graduated from Clark University with a Bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 2015. Excited to continue doing fundamental research, Blaine joined the lab of Professor Garret Miyake at Colorado State University later that year. Supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, Blaine investigated photocatalysts that can be activated by sunlight to drive polymerization reactions. After receiving her Ph.D. in chemistry in 2020, she joined the Waymouth group as a postdoctoral researcher. In her current position, Blaine is developing new types of charge-altering releasable transporters (CARTs) that encapsulate, protect, and deliver genetic information through a unique charge-altering mechanism that leads to their exceptional transfection efficiencies in cells and in mouse models. Blaine is grateful for support from the Cancer-TNT program to investigate the use of CART gene delivery vehicles for new cancer therapeutics.

Min Chen, PhD
Mentors: Jianghong Rao and Heike Daldrup-Link

Project Title: PET Imaging of Tumor Therapeutic Responses with Targeted Enable in Situ Ligand-Assemble Tracer

Dr.Chen received her BS in biological science from Southwest University in China. She received her PhD in Chemical Biology at Institute of Biomedical Science of Fudan University under the guidance of Prof. Fuyou Li. Her PhD research focused on the validation of novel small-molecular luminescent probes for imaging diseases in cell culture and live animals. She completed her Ph.D. in 2015 and then joined the Molecular Imaging Program in Stanford (MIPS). She is currently a T32 postdoctoral research fellow in the laboratory of Jianghong Rao at Stanford University. Her search focuses on the development of targeted enable in situ ligand-assemble tracer for PET imaging of tumor therapeutic responses.


Christina Kim Lee, PhD
Mentors: Dean Felsher and Utkan Demirci

Project Title: Exosomes as a Nano Immune Therapeutic for Cancer

Dr. Lee received her BS in Biology from The George Washington University, Washington, DC. She then completed her MS in Physiology at Georgetown University and worked at the National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD, as a Cancer Research Training Award recipient for three years. She received her PhD in Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA. Her dissertation research focused on the role of innate suppressor, Toll-interacting protein, in neutrophil polarization during chronic inflammatory diseases. During her PhD, she published 6 manuscripts in peer reviewed journals, presented at international and domestic conferences, and received awards including AAI Young Investigator Award at the Neutrophil 2018, International Symposium in Québec City, Canada. She joined Dr. Dean Felsher’s laboratory at Stanford University in 2019 where she studies the role of oncogene MYC on exosome production and its role on immune cell differentiation during lymphoma development. Her research focuses on engineering ways to utilize the nanoparticle to host benefit.

Elaine Ng, PhD
Mentors: Shawn Wang and Jianghong Rao

Project Title: Identifying Circulating Tumor DNA (ctDNA) Biomarkers which can be used in Combination with Molecular Imaging Biomarkers

Elaine received her B.S. in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin and her Ph.D. in Bioengineering at Stanford University. Her thesis research focused on the validation of a protein biomarker panel for early hepatocellular carcinoma detection at the point-of-care using giant magneto-resistive sensor arrays. Throughout her graduate studies, she received multiple awards for her translational and interdisciplinary research, including the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, Bio-X SIGF, CIMIT Student Technology Prize for Primary Healthcare, and the Bold Epic Innovator Award for the Qualcomm Tricorder XPrize Competition. She is currently a T32 postdoctoral research fellow in Prof. Shan X. Wang’s lab and co-mentored by Prof. Jianghong Rao. Her research will be focused on identifying circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) biomarkers which can be used in combination with molecular imaging biomarkers to monitor therapeutic response in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

Razieh Khalifehzadeh, PhD
Mentors: Sanjiv Sam Gambhir and Zhenan Bao

Project Title: Flexible and Ultra-small Intracranial Pressure Sensors for Wireless Monitoring and Early Detection of Brain Tumor Recurrence

Dr. Khalifehzadeh received a dual Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering and Nanotechnology & Molecular Engineering from the University of Washington (UW) in 2018. Her thesis research was focused on design of new classes of degradable polymers for the next generation of cardiovascular stents. Throughout her graduate study, she received multiple prestigious awards such as Pre-doctoral Clinical Research Training (TL1) scholarship from National Center for Advancing Translational Science at NIH, Society for Biomaterials (SFB) travel award, Dean of Engineering Scholarship and Graduate School Fund for Excellence and Innovation (GSFEI, UW). She is currently a T32 postdoctoral research fellow in the laboratories of Prof. Zhenan Bao and Prof. Sam Gambhir at Stanford University. Her interdisciplinary research lies at the interface of engineering and translational medicine and focuses on the development of wireless, implantable or wearable bioelectronics for early disease diagnosis and therapy.  

Past Trainees

Ryan Davis, PhD
Mentors: Sanjiv Sam Gambhir and Jianghong Rao

Project Title: Surfaced-Enhanced Raman Scattering Nanoparticles for Improved Resection of Non-Muscle Invasive Bladder Cancer

Ryan Miller Davis received a Bachelor’s of Science in Physics and Bachelor’s of Arts in Electrical Engineering from Johns Hopkins University in 2007. Following his undergraduate studies, he completed a Master’s of Science degree in Medical Physics at Duke University in 2009 with Mark W. Dewhirst as a research supervisor.  While working with Dr. Dewhirst, Ryan developed temperature-sensitive MRI contrast agents for imaging temperature during thermal therapy of cancer.  He was a Cancer Research Training Award (CRTA) fellow from 2009-2011, which supported his research in the Radiation Biology Branch at the National Cancer Institute. At the NCI, he used stable nitroxide contrast agents to image oxidative stress in cancer with MRI. In 2011, Ryan began his doctoral research in the lab of Warren S. Warren in the Duke University Biomedical Engineering Program, where he developed a method to image the temperature of bone marrow with MRI during thermal therapy of bone metastases.  Ryan completed his Ph.D. in 2015 and is currently a T32-funded postdoctoral research fellow in the laboratory of Sam Gambhir at Stanford University.  His research focuses on the development of antibody-targeted nanoparticles for improved detection and delineation of colorectal and bladder cancers with optical endoscopy.

Arvin Gouw, PhD
Mentors: Dean Felsher and Richard Zare

Project Title: Inhibition of MYC-induced lipogenesis suppresses tumor progression

Dr. Gouw received his BA in Molecular Cell Biology - Neurobiology and MA in Endocrinology from University of California, Berkeley. He then earned MPhil from the University of Pennsylvania studying philosophy of science. His PhD work on cancer metabolism was done at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. His current postdoctoral work at Stanford University School of Medicine is under the guidance of Dr. Dean Felsher and Dr. Richard Zare, investigating the role of lipid metabolism in MYC and RAS-driven cancers using Desorption Electrospray Ionization Mass Spectrometry Imaging (DESI-MSI). 

Ashwin Ram, MD
Mentors: Michael Snyder and Utkan Demirci

Project Title: Exosome facilitated therapeutic targeting of HAT1 in Ras-mutant cancer

Dr. Ram graduated medical school from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He then completed his residency at the Johns Hopkins Hospital where he was awarded the Rangos Award for Cancer Creativity for his proposal harnessing next-gen sequencing and synthetic biology for treatment of metastatic cancers. He pursued additional training in bioengineering at the California Institute of Technology in the Nanosystems Biology Cancer Center (NSBCC) where he used a new drug-discovery platform to target oncogenic K-Ras. His current postdoctoral work at Stanford University School of Medicine is under the guidance of Dr. Michael Snyder, where he is investigating the genetic and epigenetic regulation of cancer using novel nanotechnologies.

Viola Chen, MD
Mentors: Alice Fan and Shan Wang

Project Title: Developing Liquid Biopsy Methods for Predicting Early Disease and Therapeutic Drug Response in Localized and Metastatic Renal Cell Carcinoma Patients

Dr. Chen received her MD from Georgetown University and completed her residency at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Inspired by the molecular drivers of cancer through clinical research in radiosurgery for prostate cancer, Viola spent a year performing basic science research with support from the HHMI-NIH Research Scholars Program during medical school. With mentorship from hereditary kidney cancer specialist, Dr. Marston Linehan at the NIH, she assisted in characterizing and testing various metabolic profiles of hereditary and spontaneously mutated kidney cancer cell lines against various tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs). She worked to propose novel drug mechanisms of action by investigating cancer cell metabolomics which ultimately led to a collaborative paper published in Cancer Cell. As a second-year research-track oncology fellow at Stanford, Viola is interested in elucidating novel relationships in cell signaling pathways through next-generation DNA and RNA sequencing analysis combined with nanoimmunoassay (NIA) on actual patient samples undergoing therapy to discover potential biomarkers of early resistance to TKIs or new combinatorial agents designed to promote the real-time application of nanotechnology to personalized medicine.  

Sibu Kuruvilla, PhD
Mentors: Dean Felsher and Richard Zare

Project Title: Engineering nanoparticles to overcome barriers to immunotherapy

Dr. Kuruvilla received his BS degree in Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign before obtaining his PhD in MSE and Biomedical Engineering from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. His PhD research focused on creating a nanoparticle drug delivery system that could target and deliver chemotherapeutic agents to tumor tissue. He came to Stanford in 2017 and joined the Cancer TNT program in 2018 under the direction of Dr. Dean Felsher to create antibody-loaded nanoparticles for the treatment of MYC-driven tumors.

Timothy Blake, PhD
Mentors: Robert Waymouth and Paul Wender

Project Title: mRNA Vaccination with Charge-Altering Releasable Transporters Cures Established Experimental Tumors

Dr. Blake received his BS in Chemistry from the University of California, Irvine. He then moved to Stanford University to receive his PhD in Chemistry under the guidance of Prof. Robert M. Waymouth. Tim’s PhD work focused on the development of catalytic methods for the synthesis of environmentally responsive, water-soluble polyesters. In a collaborative project with Prof. Paul A. Wender, Tim and co-workers employed these responsive materials to develop a highly efficient nanoparticle-based messenger RNA (mRNA) delivery platform, allowing for robust expression of protein in both cell culture and live animals. As a postdoctoral research fellow, under the advisement of Prof. Robert M. Waymouth and Prof. Ronald Levy, Tim is leveraging the materials developed during his PhD for nanoparticle-based cancer vaccination strategies via mRNA mediated protein expression. 

Travis M. Shaffer, PhD
Mentors: Sanjiv Sam Gambhir and Jianghong Rao

Project Title: Building an expanded resonant Raman Nanoparticle library by utilizing multiple excitation wavelength lasers

Travis received his Bachelor’s of Science in Chemistry from Gannon University in 2011. Following this, he headed to New York City for his doctorate in Chemistry under the mentorship of Jan Grimm (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center) and Charles Michael Drain (City University of New York). As part of an NSF radiochemistry-training program between MSKCC and Hunter College of the City University of New York, Travis’s doctoral research spanned both molecular imaging and radiochemistry. He developed methodology for stably attaching radionuclides to nanoparticles with near-term clinical translation for in vivo imaging. Additionally, he researched the interactions of ionizing radiation with nanoparticles that result in visible and high-energy photon generation or attenuation. Travis completed his Ph.D. in 2016 and is currently a postdoctoral research fellow in the Gambhir laboratory at Stanford University.    

Chunte (Sam) Peng, PhD
Mentors: Steven Chu and Jianghong Rao

Project Title: Ultralong-term single molecule tracking of epidermal growth factor receptor

Dr. Peng obtained his BS in Chemistry from University of California, Berkeley. He then received his PhD in Physical Chemistry from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with Prof. Andrei Tokmakoff. Sam’s PhD research focused on the development of two-dimensional infrared (2D IR) spectroscopy to study ultrafast unfolding dynamics of nucleic acids and nanosecond tautomerization of nucleic acid analogs. Sam moved back to California and started his postdoctoral training at Stanford with Prof. Steven Chu in December 2015. To achieve long-term single molecule imaging in live cells, Sam has been developing photostable luminescent nanoprobes using upconversion nanoparticles (UCNPs). Together with Prof. Jianghong Rao, we have been developing UCNP functionalization schemes in order to perform ultralong-term single molecule imaging of EGFR and HER2 dimerization in live cells.

John Hickey, PhD
Mentors: Garry Nolan and Mark Davis

Project Title: High parameter imaging of cancer and immune reactions

John Hickey, received his BS in Chemical Engineering from Brigham Young University and his PhD in Biomedical Engineering from Johns Hopkins University. He trained with Dr. Jonathan Schneck (Pathology) and Dr. Hai-Quan Mao (Materials Science and Engineering) to develop new biomaterials that can be used to stimulate and learn more about the immune system. His received the NIH Cancer Nanotechnology, NSF Graduate, Siebel, and ARCS Fellowships for his work with engineering artificial antigen presenting cells and artificial lymph nodes for immunotherapy. He mentored 12 students with whom he has produced 7 first-authored and 4 co-authored publications. Now he is a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University with Dr. Garry Nolan creating and using new multi-omics imaging technologies that inform on inflammation, immune responses, and cancer.