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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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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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 focused on determining the role that complement system activation plays in 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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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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Varuna Nangia, BS - MD/PhD Student

Varuna is an MSTP student at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. She plans on pursuing a career in oncology where she hopes to balance patient care with advancing research. In her spare time, she enjoys lifting and rock climbing.

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Maxwell Mayeda, BS - Medical Student

Max earned his B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of Denver in 2013 and a M.S. in Finance in 2014. After graduating he worked at an investment firm in Denver until 2019, when he matriculated at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Max joined the Karam lab in March of 2020 and is helping research pancreatic tumor models in mice.

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Diemmy Nguyen - Undergraduate Student

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. 

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

 

Lab Photos