Skip to navigation menu Skip to content
High Priority Alert

We are experiencing extremely high demand in our Emergency Department. Learn more.

High Priority Alert

Masking and Visitation Changes: Due to high rates of respiratory illnesses in our community, we’ve made changes to our masking and visitation guidelines. Learn more.

Invent at Seattle Children’s Postdoctoral Scholars Program

Meet the Scholars


Natasha Bourgeois, PhDNatasha Bourgeois, PhD

Aitchison Lab
Center for Global Infectious Disease, Seattle Children’s Research Institute

Natasha Bourgeois, PhD, is a microbiologist pursuing pediatric disease research and drug development. She is dedicated to a research career working with a team of passionate scientists to develop therapeutics that can cure pediatric infectious disease and cancer globally.

Dr. Bourgeois received a B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of New Orleans and a PhD in Pathobiology from the Department of Global Health at the University of Washington. She has contributed to numerous biomedical research fields, including identifying biomarkers of evolutionary adaptation in West African antelope, characterizing regulators of mitochondrial biogenesis in yeast, and investigating host cell regulators of Salmonella, HIV, Malaria, Tuberculosis, and Dengue. Her graduate thesis research identified cellular factors with the potential to be therapeutically targeted to disrupt dengue infection in liver cells, where severe disease often manifests. Through the Invent@SC program, Dr. Bourgeois will expand her expertise in host-pathogen research to more translational work in infectious disease as well as cancer. With her lab mentor, Dr. John Aitchison, she is developing and testing nanobodies against viruses as well as glioblastoma. She is also continuing her education towards translational expertise with drug discovery, development, and commercialization courses.

Dr. Bourgeois is passionate about scientific outreach, communication, and mentoring, and will always take the time to explain the science behind medicine to anyone – including her four cats and lizard who probably don’t understand her. She is working on releasing her podcast called, You’ve Got a Disease! With Dr. Bourgeois. When not working on science, Dr. Bourgeois enjoys cooking Cajun or Latin meals she picked up from her parents, baking excessively sugary sweets for her friends, coaching CrossFit, or spending time outside paddleboarding, backpacking, and skiing.

Headshot of Stephen CarneyStephen Carney, PhD

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

Stephen V. Carney, PhD, is a geneticist trained in the areas of cancer biology, immunology, and epigenetics. His work focuses on developing novel therapeutic combinations to improve the survival of pediatric patients diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a brain tumor subtype that forms in the cerebellum. He will utilize patient derived xenografts and engineered mouse cell cultures to decode the tumor-specific vulnerabilities to novel drug inhibitors. He joined Dr. Myron Evans II laboratory in May 2023 to gain experience on drug screening procedures and clinical trial design.

Dr. Carney completed two bachelor of science degrees in Animal Science and Genomics & Molecular Genetics at Michigan State University. After graduating, he participated in the Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) at Case Western Reserve University studying cortical developmental defects in a neurodegenerative disease called ataxia telangiectasia. This prompted his interest in neuroscience, and he later crossed research disciplines to study brain cancer. He conducted his graduate work in Dr. Maria Castro laboratory at the University of Michigan, where he explored the reversibility of epigenomic reprogramming in isocitrate dehydrogenase 1 (IDH1) mutant glioma to decipher its impact on resistance to radiotherapy.

Dr. Carney has a mixed heritage of African American and Native American ancestry. His maternal grandmother’s tribe resides on Walpole Island Reservation as part of the Bkejwanong territory located on the Canadian and Michigan border. Dr. Carney hopes to improve the representation of indigenous communities within the biotechnology space.

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.

Headshot of Bakyayita Rachel Kyeyune, PhD, MB ChBBakyayita Rachel Kyeyune, PhD, MB ChB

Adair Lab
Fred Hutch Cancer Center

Dr. Bakyayita Rachel Kyeyune’s background is in clinical research around infectious diseases and non-communicable diseases. She held various roles as a clinical trial coordinator, project manager and head of research program at some of Uganda’s leading research institutions.

Dr. Kyeyune is based at the Fred Hutch Cancer Center in Dr. Jennifer Adair’s lab, and her project focuses on discovering strategies to increase efficiency and reduce manufacturing costs of lentiviral transduction in the development of ex vivo treatments for hemoglobinopathies. The Adair Lab is combining Magnetically Assisted Transduction (MAT) which uses magnetic interactions to deliver the DNA into cells using nanoparticles to enhance the concentration of the LV vector and its uptake by the target cells.

Prior to joining the Invent@SC program, Dr. Kyeyune completed her PhD in International Health & Medical Research from the Ludwig Maximillians University (LMU) in Munich where she profiled hematological complications of people living with HIV who were just initiating highly active antiretroviral therapy. She also has extensive experience in the regulation of clinical trials in Uganda and several parts of Africa from her prior role as Manager for Clinical Trials at the National Drug Authority of Uganda.

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.

Headshot of Akinsola OyelakinAkinsola Oyelakin, PhD

Ramirez Lab
Center for Integrative Brain Research, Seattle Children's Research Institute
Olson Lab
Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research, Seattle Children’s Research Institute

Akinsola Oyelakin, PhD, is a biochemist trained in cancer biology and bioinformatics. He is a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratories of Dr. Nino Ramirez and Dr. Jim Olson and will be developing novel therapeutic biomolecules for the treatment and prevention of schizophrenia. His research will build on his background in biochemistry and bioinformatics to engineer novel protein constructs that could also be adapted for a wide range of therapeutic applications.

Dr. Oyelakin obtained his BSc degree in Biochemistry at Babcock University in Nigeria and completed his graduate training at the University of Buffalo in New York. His graduate work identified a role for the ETS transcription factor EHF in the regulation of cellular redox homeostasis in head and neck squamous cell carcinomas. In addition to his work in cancer research, his other research endeavors have contributed to our understanding of the gene expression programs governing salivary gland development and dysfunction.

Dr. Oyelakin is enthusiastic about translational science, and he hopes that his research as an invent scholar will improve the lives of people diagnosed with schizophrenia.

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. 

Yusuke Suita, PhDYusuke Suita, PhD

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

Dr. Yusuke Suita is a cancer biologist with an entrepreneurial spirit. He received his PhD in Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology from Brown University. Under the guidance of Drs. Nikos Tapinos, Jie Shen, Ritambhara Singh, and Mamiko Yajima, he developed a groundbreaking cancer cellular trap for glioblastoma, alongside the construction of machine-learning models predicting gene expression in glioblastoma cells using multiple epigenetic markers. 

In the Invent@SC program, Dr. Suita is develop a new therapy for pediatric brain tumors, specifically local immunotherapy, along with computational design under the guidance of Dr. Jim Olson. An experience within his own family sparked his personal motivation to embark on this path; contrary to the initial prognosis of one month, he witnessed his grandfather's life remarkably extended by two years, owing to an innovative treatment that halted tumor progression. His grandmother’s profound gratitude catalyzed his determination to create novel therapies for currently underserved cancer types. His overarching goal is to engineer a transformative therapy that elevates cure rates for young patients, fostering a society where cancer is not a source of fear but a manageable condition.

While at Brown, Dr. Suita was elected to the New England Medical Innovation Center Med Tech program, where his research pitch received recognition from potential investors. Looking ahead in the Invent@SC program, he aspires to present both his vision and the treatment prototype to investors – ultimately bringing the treatment from bench to bedside, with the support of his clinical and biotech mentors.

When Dr. Suita is not in the lab or chatting about science with others, he can be found savoring delicious foods, cheering for the Japan national soccer team, or enjoying the thrill of skiing down slopes.

Elzani van Zyl, PhDElzani van Zyl, PhD

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

Dr. Elizabeth (Elzani) M. van Zyl, PhD, is an Invent at Seattle Children’s Postdoctoral Scholar in Dr. Shannon Oda’s lab. Her work is centered around the development of adoptive T-cell engineering strategies, with the goal of enhancing therapeutic efficacy against pediatric central nervous system cancers.

Dr. van Zyl has an educational background in biomedical engineering, having earned her B.S., master's of engineering, and doctorate degrees from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts. Her career's trajectory was profoundly influenced by the high incidence of burn injuries in her homeland of South Africa. It was this concern that drove her to embark on her doctoral research, which focused on improving the functionality of bacterial-derived cellulose materials for wound dressing applications. Dr. van Zyl's work included the development of novel methods for producing optically transparent bacterial cellulose materials, facilitating wound site visualization, and the design of bifunctional antimicrobial peptides to provide surface antibacterial activity, thereby combating and preventing wound site infections.

Dr. van Zyl is driven by a deep commitment to equal access to cutting-edge pediatric medical therapies. She believes that individuals from all walks of life, regardless of their background or geographical location, should have the opportunity to benefit from the latest advancements in medical science.

Affiliate Members

Affiliate members are postdoctoral scholars employed by Seattle Children’s who are working on “Discovered Here” therapeutics.

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.

Fernanda Rodrigues da Costa, PhDFernanda Rodrigues da Costa, PhD

Parish Lab
Center for Global Infectious Disease Research, Seattle Children’s Research Institute

Fernanda Rodrigues da Costa, PhD, is a microbiologist trained in areas of antibiotic discovery, biochemical and biophysical characterization of proteins involved in cell wall formation in bacteria and characterization of bacterial resistance mechanisms and pathogenesis. She is a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Tanya Parish’s lab at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute, where she has been working on tuberculosis biology and drug discovery. Her research project aims at identifying tuberculosis drug candidates with a novel mode of action focusing on understanding their mechanism of action, mode of kill, resistance mechanisms, and drug target identification and validation.

Prior to joining the Parish lab, Dr. Rodrigues da Costa completed her doctorate studies at Brazillian National Laboratory (LNBIO)/Universidade Estadual de Campinas, where her main project involved the identification of new antibiotics in libraries of natural products. During that period, she also had the opportunity to participate in an exchange program and do a scientific internship at the Institut de Biologie Structurale in France, where she worked on a project concentrated on the study of proteins that form a complex involved in cell wall formation in bacteria. During her master studies, she was trained in a clinical microbiology laboratory, where the focus of her research was the characterization of bacterial resistance mechanisms, mainly in those pathogens considered priority by World Health Organization (WHO).

Dr. Rodrigues da Costa has been working on bacteriology field for the past eleven years and has become passionate about research on new antibiotics and bacterial pathogenesis.

Headshot of Emma WrennEmma Wrenn, PhD

Lawlor Lab
Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer ResearchSeattle Children’s Research Institute

Emma Wrenn, PhD, is a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Beth Lawlor’s lab in the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research. Her current research focuses on the relationship between epigenetic plasticity, the tumor microenvironment, and metastasis in Ewing sarcoma.

She received her PhD from the University of Washington’s Molecular & Cellular Biology Graduate Program. Dr. Wrenn conducted her dissertation research at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Dr. Kevin Cheung’s lab, studying how cell-cell interactions promote metastasis in breast cancer partly through the formation of intercellular reservoirs of signaling molecules in nanolumina.

Her postdoctoral work is specifically focused on identifying new therapeutic strategies for metastatic or relapsed Ewing sarcomas, which have very poor survival rates. Ewing sarcomas are driven by fusions of EWS and ETS transcription factors, most commonly EWS::FLI1. While they are typically driven by a single oncogene, Ewing sarcomas display a surprising amount of intra- and inter-tumoral heterogeneity. Dr. Wrenn is working on understanding the biological basis of this heterogeneity, and how it contributes to disease progression and resistance to treatment. Her work in the Lawlor lab has helped identify a subset of mesenchymal and extracellular matrix-associated genes which subpopulations of tumor cells express that promote tumor aggression. Her current work focuses on identifying key upstream regulators of this cell state plasticity that can be targeted to reduce metastatic progression, and on developing therapeutic strategies to destroy the pro-metastatic microenvironment generated by these tumors.

By clicking “Accept All Cookies,” you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage and assist in marketing efforts. For more information, see Website Privacy.

Accept All Cookies