Lab Members

Sana Lab photo

Sana Karam, MD, Ph.D.- Principal Investigator

Welcome to the Karam Lab. I am a physician-scientist and radiation oncologist specializing in treating patients with head and neck, pancreatic, and CNS malignancies. Our laboratory research encompasses both basic and translational components. Our focus is largely to understand how components of the tumor microenvironment contribute to tumor growth, progression, metastasis, and resistance to therapy. We study cellular dialogues between cancer cell and immune cells and other stromal components like vasculature and fibroblasts. We examine signaling mechanisms within the context of tumor immunology or cancer cell survival to explore treatment resistance with the end goal of tumor eradication and clinical translation. But along the way, we let our curious minds wander in response to intriguing twists in the data as we pursue scientific knowledge.

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Shilpa Bhatia, Ph.D. - Research Instructor

Shilpa received her Master's degree in Medical Biotechnology from Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (India). Thereafter, she joined the Department of Cellular Biology and Anatomy at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center where she graduated with a PhD degree in Cancer Gene Therapy. She later pursued her post-doctoral fellowship at Virginia Commonwealth University and studied the molecular mechanisms of a tumor-promoting gene in differentiation and angiogenesis of head and neck cancers. As a Research Instructor in Dr. Karam's lab, Shilpa's central research focus is to identify and target novel candidate genes engaged in a cross-talk with the components of tumor microenvironment. In her free time, Shilpa likes to explore new places and capture some fun moments behind the lens.

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Thomas Bickett, Ph.D. - Postdoctoral Fellow

Tom grew up in the Black Hills of South Dakota and attended the University of South Dakota where he completed a bachelors degree in Biology in 2014. While there, Tom completed an undergraduate thesis studying influenza virus, Streptococcus pyogenes superinfection. With an interest in immunology, Tom went on to Colorado State University to complete his Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology studying the innate immune response to Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tom’s current efforts are focused on understanding how radiation modulates the tumor microenvironment in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma to evaluate potential for combination with immunotherapies. When he is not at the bench, Tom enjoys home brewing, hunting, and fishing with his wife and two kids.

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Benjamin Van Court, BS – Professional Research Assistant

 

Ben received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering and Engineering Physics at University of Colorado, Boulder, where he worked as a tutor and on image and signal processing research. He manages the image-guided small animal radiotherapy core and is pursuing an M.S. in Bioengineering. He produces and composes music in his spare time.

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Michael Knitz, MS - Professional Research Assistant

Mike received his Bachelor’s degree in Molecular and Cell Biology from UC Berkeley and his Master’s degree in Bioinformatics from Northeastern University. In Berkeley, he focused on immunology and biochemistry studies, and in his free time he raced triathlons and volunteered with kids of all ages as a camp counselor and science tutor. In Boston, he primarily focused his Master’s studies in genomics, statistics, and machine learning applications. After moving from California to Colorado, Mike joined the Karam lab and now works primarily on tumor immunology studies as well as RNA-Seq studies in human and mouse applications. In the future, he wishes to expand his knowledge in genetic and genomic applications in the context of oncology. Outside of research, Mike enjoys cycling, swimming, camping, chess, and the occasional relaxing afternoon in Cheesman Park in Denver.

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Jacob Gadwa, MS - Professional Research Assistant

Jake is a Colorado native and attended Colorado State University in his hometown of Fort Collins. During his time at CSU he received both a Bachelor’s degree in biological science and Master’s degree in microbiology, all the while competing and serving as head coach of the CSU climbing team. After graduation he stayed at Colorado State, conducting research developing novel antimicrobial compounds against drug resistant strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Jake joined the Karam lab in the fall of 2019 and is currently focusing on inducing systemic immunity and it's effect on treatment of head and neck cancer. Outside of lab, Jake is an avid climber and enjoys traveling, hiking, cooking, golf, and board games.

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Miles Piper, BS - Professional Research Assistant

Miles grew up in Wyoming before attending Arizona State University where he received a B.S. in Biochemistry and Mathematics in the spring of 2019. During his undergraduate time, Miles was a member of a biophysics laboratory at ASU's biodesign Institute where he utilized atomic force microscopy (AFM) to study the structural changes of chromatin in esophageal cancer cells. Miles is now a professional research assistant in the Radiation Oncology Department at the University of Colorado. The focus of Miles' research is to understand the complex interactions within the tumor microenvironment of pancreatic adenocarcinoma (PDAC), as well as the development of novel radioimmunotherapies in the context of pancreatic cancer. In this free time, Miles enjoys watching baseball, playing his piano, and getting together with friends.

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Diemmy Nguyen, BS - Professional Research Assistant

Diemmy is currently a senior at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She is majoring in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology as well as Spanish for Health Professions. Diemmy is also in the process of completing a Public Health Certificate. In the future, she aspires to attend medical school. She hopes to practice medicine in vulnerable and medically under-served  communities. In her free time, Diemmy enjoys working out, hiking, drawing, and spending time with her friends and family. 

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Laurel Darragh, BS - MD/PhD Student

Laurel earned her undergraduate degree from Cornell University. Her undergraduate work primarily focused on how TLR2 and TLR4 can block the replication of pancreatic beta cells. Currently, Laurel’s research is focused on how T cells traffic to the tumor microenvironment. Clinically, Laurel hopes to join a PSTP residency program in internal medicine and later specialize in medical oncology. When Laurel is not in the lab, she enjoys skiing, hiking, and spending time with family and friends.

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Sophia Corbo, BS - PhD Student

Sophia grew up in Connecticut before earning her B.S. in Biology from Widener University in 2020. Her undergraduate work primarily focused on the molecular mechanisms that promote breast cancer aggression. Currently, Sophia’s research is focused on how Eph-Ephrin signaling promotes angiogenesis while suppressing immunosurveillance in the tumor microenvironment in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. When Sophia is not in the lab, she enjoys hiking, going to concerts, sailing, paddle boarding, playing fetch with her dog, and getting together with friends.

 

 

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Shuichi Watanabe, MD, PhD - Visiting Research Scholar

Shu entered Tokyo Medical and Dental University and graduated in 2010. After 2 years of the junior residency program and 3 years of residency program in surgery, he entered the field of hepatobiliary and pancreatic surgery. Shu completed his Ph.D. studying poor prognostic subtypes of pancreatic cancer and has been a research scholar at the Surgery Department, University of Colorado, since September 2020. To promote the collaborative study, Shu participated in Radiation Oncology,  and is currently studying the impact of preoperative radiation therapy on pancreatic surgery. Shu has climbed more than 100 mountains in Japan, and he is also intrigued by the majestic mountains of Colorado.

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Tiffany Pham, MD - Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery resident

Tiffany is a Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery resident at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychobiology from UCLA and her Master’s in Human Nutrition at Columbia University. As a physician scientist, she hopes to contribute to improving the quality of life and outcomes of patients. Her clinical interest in particular is to improve the morbidity and mortality of head and neck cancer, with a further interest in biomedical imaging and new treatment approaches. In her free time she enjoys painting, paddleboarding, and hiking.

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Michaele Francesco Corbisiero, MS, MPH – Medical Student 

Michaele-Francesco is a medical student who completed a dual degree master’s program at the University of Southern California (USC) where he studied Applied Psychology and Public Health. Prior to his time at USC, he completed his B.Sc. in Biology and Psychology at Queen’s University in Canada. In collaboration with Laurel Darragh, who serves as a great peer mentor, Michaele is exploring how T cells traffic to the tumor microenvironment. He’s also interested in head and neck cancer outcomes and focused on elucidating optimal treatment plans. In his downtime, Michaele enjoys watching Juventus or Azzurri football, cheering on Scuderia Ferrari in Formula 1, or reading.

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Sarah Douglas - Undergraduate Student

Sarah is currently an undergraduate student at CU Boulder. She is majoring in molecular biology and French. She is passionate about women’s health and wants to go to medical school to become an OB/GYN. Sarah spends her free time baking, learning different languages and writes screenplays.  

Lab Alumni

 

Ayman Oweida, PhD: Assistant Professor - University of Sherbrook

Adam Mueller, MD, PhD: Assistant Professor - Thomas Jefferson University

Mohammad Hararah, MD, MPH: Head and Neck Surgery Fellow - Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

Nimrah Baig, MD: Pediatrics Fellow - Cincinnati Children's Hospital 

Jaspreet Sharma, PhD: Research Instructor - University of North Carolina, Charlotte

 

Anastacia Griego, PhD: Microbiologist - New Mexico Department of Health

Andy Phan, MD: Pathology Resident - Cornell University

Kellen Hirsch, MD: Pulmonary Critical Care/Medicine Resident - University of Washington

Shelby Lennon, BS: PhD Student in Biochemistry - University of Colorado, Boulder

Shiv Bhuvane, BS: Medical Student - Nova Southeastern University

Dallin Millner, BS: Medical Student - University of Colorado, Denver

Sanjana Bukkapatnam, BS: Medical Student - University of Colorado, Denver

 

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