I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where my family still lives. My first research experience came as an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh in the lab of Dr. Rick Relyea studying ecology and evolutionary biology through the NSF REU program. While crawling around swamps collecting amphipod species for our experiments is worlds away from oncology, this experience showed me the importance of curiosity, mentorship, and how interesting and fun research can be. Looking back, this experience was clearly the first spark that started me on the road to becoming a physician scientist.
Following my undergraduate work I had the opportunity to continue my research in evolutionary biology at the University of Oklahoma. During this time I started volunteering at the Manos Juntas free clinic in Oklahoma City on Saturday mornings. This experience put me in direct contact with patients for the first time as I worked in triage to take their vitals and figure out why they needed to see the physician. Those Saturday mornings showed me how impactful physicians can be on their patient’s lives, and taught me the value of serving those in need. These interactions inspired me to pursue medicine as my career and ultimately led to me coming to Ohio State for medical school in 2011.
When I arrived at Ohio State for medical school I didn’t have specific plans for a prolonged research experience, but I was quickly intrigued by all of the amazing research that now surrounded me. Fortunately, I was able to meet Dr. Flavia Pichiorri who provided me with an excellent opportunity to work in her lab focused on multiple myeloma. I initially worked on a project aimed at improving risk prognostication for multiple myeloma patients by measuring circulating miRNA levels. Participating in this project exposed me to the world of molecular biology and cancer research for the first time. It also allowed me to interact with patients with incurable cancer, and see the incredibly important role research plays in improving the treatment of these patients and their quality of life. Following this I successfully applied for a Pelotonia Fellowship, and took a one year leave of absence from medical school to work on a project investigating the use of the oncolytic Reovirus for the treatment of multiple myeloma. This project found that expression of the Reovirus receptor JAM 1 was epigenetically regulated, and its expression could be increased by treatment of myeloma cells with clinically used histone deacetylase inhibitors. Upregulation of JAM 1 with HDAC inhibitors resulted in enhanced productive Reovirus infection of multiple myeloma cells in vitro and in vivo resulting in enhanced myeloma cell death and reduced disease burden in animal models. During this time I decided to apply to the Medical Scientist Training Program at Ohio State and was thankfully accepted as an advanced training applicant.
For my PhD work I had the great fortune to work in Dr. William E. Carson III’s lab investigating immune suppressive tumor associated myeloid cells, in particular myeloid derived suppressor cells (MDSC). The central aspect of my dissertation work was focused on studying the interaction of MDSC and NK cells. This work found that MDSC are capable of inhibiting important anti tumor NK cell functions including natural cytotoxicity, cytokine production, and antibody dependent cellular cytotoxicity. This occurred through a contact independent mechanism involving nitric oxide production by MDSC resulting in the nitration of tyrosine residues on signal transduction molecules within NK cells thus blocking their activation. This work also showed that inhibiting MDSC nitric oxide production or depleting MDSC resulted in improved NK cell function, and improved efficacy of antibodies that can activate NK cells such as trastuzumab and cetuximab. In Dr. Carson’s lab I also had the opportunity to participate in several highly translational projects aimed at identifying therapeutic agents capable of targeting MDSC to improve anti-tumor immune responses. One project investigated the role of Bruton’s Tyrosine Kinase (BTK) in the expansion and function of MDSC. This work discovered that MDSC express BTK, and that the BTK inhibitor ibrutinib could inhibit the expansion of MDSC and impair their immune suppressive function. Furthermore, combining ibrutinib with an antibody targeting PDL1 resulted in improved tumor control. This project provided the preclinical evidence to support the initiation of a phase I clinical trial of ibrutinib and nivolumab for patients with metastatic solid tumors that is currently open at Ohio State. Finally, I also participated in a project that investigated the role of Brd4 in MDSC expansion and function.
When I returned to medical school for my clinical years I quickly gravitated to Internal Medicine and Oncology as my career choice. While investigating residency programs the commitment to mentorship and innovative approaches to career development, the excellent clinical training, and the amazing resources available through The James and the Comprehensive Cancer Center made Ohio State’s PSTP a clear first choice for me. Over the eight years I have spent at Ohio State thus far I cannot say enough about how accessible and enthusiastic numerous faculty mentors have been including Dr. Carson, Dr. Baiocchi, and Dr. Byrd.
Furthermore, Columbus is a wonderful place to live and enjoy life outside of the hospital and lab. My wonderful wife and I have been able to comfortably purchase a home in Columbus. We also take full advantage of the ample running trails for exercise and green space to play with our dog located throughout the city. Columbus also offers a plethora of ever changing restaurants, bars, and breweries that are fun and affordable. We also make it a point to support all things Buckeyes when it comes to sports, and are sure to make it to a few Blue Jacket’s hockey games every season. Finally, we have been able to see some of our favorite musicians and discovered some new ones at the different music venues here in Columbus.
2009 BS, University of Pittsburgh, Summa Cum Laude
2017 PhD, The Ohio State University, Dissertation Committee: Dr. William E. Carson III, Dr. John C. Byrd, Dr. Robert A. Baiocchi, Dr. Aharon G. Freud
2019 MD, The Ohio State University, Magna Cum Laude
Ohio State University Medical Scientist Training Program Student of the Year Award
Ohio State University Internal Medicine Research Award
American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting Abstract Achievement Award
Pelotonia Medical Student Fellowship
Ohio State Research Day Travel Award
Lane Schick Trust Scholarship for medical student cancer research at Ohio State University
Completed Research Support
Conference Proceedings and Abstracts
Kevin W. Hoag
Sophia E. Maharry