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Invent at Seattle Children’s Postdoctoral Scholars Program

Meet the Scholars

Scholars

Headshot of David JohnsonDavid Johnson, PhD

Pattwell Lab
Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research, Seattle Children’s Research Institute

David E. Johnson, PhD, is an Invent at Seattle Children’s Postdoctoral Scholar in Dr. Siobhan Pattwell’s lab. His project is based on identifying and developing new therapeutics to treat neuroblastoma. Prior to Seattle Children’s, Dr. Johnson received his PhD from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory School of Biological Sciences where he studied how to use CRISPR based technology to elucidate and study novel therapeutics targets to treat glioblastoma.

In the future, Dr. Johnson hopes to establish his own lab and/or company whose research will be based in cancer biology with a therapeutic framework in mind. Dr. Johnson hopes to address the discrepancy in representation in science with focus on the fact that many specimens used in daily research are limited in representation within the U.S. While being aware of the intricate relationship black and brown communities have with science and research due to historical inequity, Dr. Johnson strongly believes that instead of scientific entities developing initiatives to collect data and specimen from black and brown communities, these same initiatives should, in parallel, also monetarily invest in building up communities that they are asking to help further their research. Through such an investment, Dr. Johnson hopes that black and brown communities could feel a sense of support and genuine partnership and be more open to participating in providing specimens to these scientific-based entities. Ultimately, Dr. Johnson hopes that in the future, the research he and other scientific-based entities conduct will work towards incorporating tissue samples and clinical data from various racial groups that will inevitably strengthen their science whilst simultaneously giving back to the community that provides this data.

In another life, Dr. Johnson believes if science and research were not his calling, he would be diving into the arts and becoming a comedic writer/actor with a potential side gig as a DJ.

Sinduja MarxSinduja Marx, PhD

Olson Lab
Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research, Seattle Children’s Research Institute

Sinduja Marx, PhD, is a biological engineer with a passion for translational research in the development of therapeutics and diagnostics. As an invent scholar, she is focused on developing curative therapeutics for children with eosinophilic esophagitis, a severe autoimmune disorder. To bring her research to fruition, Dr. Marx will be starting her postdoctoral training at the laboratory of Dr. Jim Olson and collaborating with the Cerosaletti and Ziegler labs at Benaroya Research Institute, and the Kiem lab at Fred Hutch.  

Dr. Marx earned her BS in bioengineering with a specialization in biotechnology at the University of California, San Diego, where she joined research groups that developed nucleic-acid-based nanoscale bio-sensors. After graduating, she was a research associate at Illumina, working on the next generation of DNA sequencing technologies at the intersection of biochemistry, bioinformatics, electronics, and microfabrication. This inspired her graduate research, leading to her earning her MS and PhD in molecular engineering at the University of Washington, Seattle, where she specialized in computational protein design and single-molecule biophysics under the guidance of Professor David Baker and Professor Jens Gundlach in the Department of Biochemistry and the Department of Physics, respectively. 

Dr. Marx's doctoral research used de novo protein design approaches with the Rosetta software suite to design novel membrane nanopores using engineering principles. This work contributed to the first de novo designed membrane beta-barrels and laid the foundation for computational design and characterization of nanopores for accurate DNA sequencing. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Marx's research centered on the enzyme nsp13, which is critical for SARS-CoV-2 virus replication. Using SPRNT, a nanopore technique developed in the laboratory of Dr. Jens Gundlach, she examined the mechanochemical motion of nucleic-acid processing enzymes with picometer resolution using nanopore data. This research advanced our understanding of nsp13 translocation and unwinding of nucleic acids, and also allowed for the measurement of nsp13 inhibition at single-nucleotide resolution.

Neelakshi Mungra, PhDNeelakshi Mungra, PhD

Jackson Lab
Center for Immunity and Immunotherapies, Seattle Children’s Research Institute

In her research, Neelakshi Mungra, PhD, focuses on the engineering of affordable cutting-edge antibody technologies that can be used in the depletion of specific B-cell subpopulations that are involved in life-threatening autoimmune disorders such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).

Prior to joining Dr. Shaun Jackson's lab, Dr. Mungra completed her postgraduate work at the Medical Biotechnology and Immunotherapy Research Unit (MB&I) at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, where she specialized in the development of modular antibody technologies aimed at facilitating precision medicine in oncology by differential diagnosis and immunotherapy. With a better understanding of the disease-specific cell surface profiles of patient biopsies, the field of targeted drug development can be expedited and tailored according to surface marker-specific patient groups best responding to specific immunotherapy or precision medicine. This is especially apparent in the management of a daunting disease like breast cancer.

Dr. Mungra was recognized for her outstanding academic performance and contribution to society by the Research Excellence Award for Next Generation Researchers at the 2021 award ceremony of the National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa.

Edward SongEdward Song, PhD

Vitanza Lab
Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research, Seattle Children’s Research Institute

Edward Song, PhD, earned a B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of Pittsburgh and a PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology with a focus area of Gene Therapy and Vaccines at the University of Pennsylvania. Under the mentorship of Drs. Michael Milone, Daniel Powell, and Carl June at Penn Medicine, Dr. Song’s PhD project developed a combination therapy of CAR T cells with IAP antagonists to address the issue of tumor antigen heterogeneity for glioblastoma, which has been presented orally and on poster at ASGCT and ISCT conferences and published on Molecular Therapy – Oncolytics. Dr. Song’s first official day in grad school happened to be the day when the US FDA officially approved Kymriah, the first gene therapy / CAR T cell therapy approved in the US, which inspired Dr. Song to work on CAR T cell research at Penn for his PhD study. 

Dr. Song joined the Invent at Seattle Children’s Postdoctoral Scholar Program in January 2023 and is focusing on CAR T cell therapy research for pediatric CNS tumors in Dr. Nicholas Vitanza’s Lab at Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research of Seattle Children’s Research Institute. Dr. Song is passionate about doing translational research to develop novel cellular immunotherapies from bench to bedside and is interested in commercializing new biotechnologies. 

On a personal note, Dr. Song’s hometown is Beijing, China, and he is passionate about helping international students and scholars to overcome language and cultural barriers for studying and working in the US. In his free time, Dr. Song is a huge fan of watching live sports, with some of his favorite teams including Bayern Munich, Union, Sounders, Mavericks, 76ers, Storm, Steelers, Eagles (Go Birds!), and Seahawks – the last of which he discovered is not an actual bird through Google. Dr. Song also loves taking road trips in the US and has driven across the country three times. 

Affiliate Members

Eric Scott Nealy, PhDEric Nealy, PhD

Olson Lab
Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research, Seattle Children’s Research Institute

Eric Scott Nealy, PhD, is a postdoc in Dr. Jim Olson’s lab at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. Prior to working at Seattle Children’s, Dr. Nealy earned his B.S. from UCLA and his PhD from the University of Washington. Dr. Nealy’s research centers around treating children with brain tumors by teaching their immune system to identify and eliminate any remnant cancer cells. He is excited about this work because it is potentially a safer and more thorough way to treat sick kids compared to chemotherapy and radiation, which can harm the patient.  

Dr. Nealy grew up in an impoverished, rough neighborhood in Los Angeles where young people did not have many positive opportunities available to them. The role models he saw on television who looked like him were mostly in the entertainment industry. He vividly remembers how exciting it was to learn about Black scientists, inventors, and astronauts like Mae C. Jemison, George Washington Carver, and Charles Drew, as he rarely saw his community portrayed in these careers.  

Exposure to these individuals helped Dr. Nealy develop a passion for all things science: outer space, computers, and medicine. The subject quickly became his favorite in school, but it was not until cancer struck his family that he decided to turn this passion into a career path. His mother is a breast cancer survivor and his father passed away from metastatic pancreatic cancer. These experiences led him to dedicate his life to a career in cancer research so he can develop treatments that will hopefully save lives and prevent other families from also experiencing loss due to cancer. He credits his family and teachers who encouraged him to pursue his career by obtaining a college education and beyond.  

Outside of research, he is passionate about mentorship and encouraging young, Black students to pursue careers in science. Through his involvement in the Invent at Seattle Children’s Postdoctoral Scholars Program, he aims to inspire and give Black students the confidence to pursue successful careers as well. Dr. Nealy is passionate about assisting underserved students in charting their futures in academia, biotech and beyond.

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