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Inaugural Sawyers Fellowship Awarded to WCGS Student

Congratulations to Chris Bourne | By Megan Allen, PhD
Wednesday, September 22, 2021

We are delighted to announce that Christopher Bourne (IMP, 5th year) recently received the the Sawyers Fellowship, which supports traditionally underrepresented early career scientists in the biomedical sciences who are pursuing doctoral thesis research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC). This award, generously sponsored by a donation from Charles and Susan Sawyers to the Maximizing Excellence in Research, Innovation, and Technology Program, supports trainees with aspirations to continue research careers as independent scientists. This 5-year fellowship provides over $250,000.00 and will fund Chris for the duration of his years in the graduate program as well as postdoctoral training. Please join WCGS in congratulating Chris!

Chris is completing his thesis research with Dr. David Scheinberg at MSKCC. Together they aim to repurpose CAR T cells as small-molecule drug delivery vectors. Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells are engineered ex-vivo to localize to tumors and kill antigen positive cancer cells. CARs are composed of an antigen specific single-chain variable fragment coupled to intracellular activation domains. In the last few years, CAR T cell therapy has shown immense promise in treating B cell malignancies, but many challenges remain. For instance, CAR T therapy is limited in its efficacy in killing solid tumors due to antigen heterogeneity and existence of an immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment. As a graduate student, Chris hopes to tackle these challenges and engineer CAR T cells that will not only overcome these obstacles, but become widespread, viable therapeutic tools in treating cancer. To accomplish this goal, he plans to combine enzyme-prodrug systems with CAR T cells to generate Synthetic Enzyme Armed KillER (SEAKER) CAR T cells. Chris is well supported by his mentor, Dr. Scheinberg, to complete this project. Preliminary work from the lab proved that it is possible to engineer human CAR T cells to secrete chemotherapeutic agents in the tumor microenvironment.

In addition to scientific research, Chris is an active member of the WCGS community. In response to the social injustice witnessed across the country in the summer of 2020, Chris co-founded of the Social Justice and Anti-Racism Task Force at WCGS. The task force’s mission is to promote the success and proportional representation of researchers and clinicians from underrepresented minorities (URM) at every level in WCGS and to dismantle systemic racism and champion social justice beyond our walls. Chris’ vision is for WCGS to become a leader in higher education as a beacon of change. Towards this end, he led focus groups and one-on-one meetings to understand the experiences of minoritized graduate students and post-docs at WCGS. As a co-chair of the SJAR Task Force, Chris worked with the Executive Committee, Dean Hempstead, and the Office of Student Diversity to implement critical changes in the graduate program. To date, the Task Force has secured funding and partnerships for summer internships, listening sessions for community members, annual surveys, updated institutional policies on diversity, equity and inclusion, and much more!

Once again, congratulations Chris! We can't wait to read about your scientific discoveries in the near future. Also, if you are interested in becoming a member of the Social Justice and Anti-Racism Taskforce, please fill out this form.

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