New Year Newsletter 2022


Happy new year! We’ve had lots of exciting developments last year here at STTR. We welcomed several new faces and launched new projects to support our research community! We continue to work hard to address the needs of the community, please feel free to come to us at anytime. Here are a couple of the key things that we think you'd like to hear about from the past year!

In this edition:

Personnel Updates

In the past year, we welcomed two new deputy directors. We are pleased to announce Slobodan Beronja, PhD as the new Deputy Director of the Head & Neck Program and Cyrus Ghajar, PhD as the new Deputy Director of the Breast Program. 

We also welcomed several new staff members. With their support we're running full steam ahead into 2022.

New Deputy Directors

Slobodan Beronja

Slobodan Beronja, PhD

Dr. Beronja's research focuses on squamous cell carcinoma, which is a type of head and neck cancer originating in the oral and nasal cavities and the throat. Because squamous cells form a vital barrier with the outside world, they are subject to a high level of stress and need to replenish lost and damaged cells. Dr. Beronja studies how cancer hijacks this natural process as well as the mechanisms that normal tissues employ to prevent cancer.

Cyrus Ghajar

Cyrus Ghajar, PhD

Dr. Ghajar's laboratory studies metastatic microenvironments. The goal of his research is to understand how microenvironments within distant tissues like bone marrow and brain regulate key hallmarks of dormant, disseminated breast tumor cells (DTCs). These hallmarks include long-term survival, reversible growth arrest, therapeutic resistance, and immune evasion. The overarching idea behind their work is that understanding the basis of these hallmarks will allow for development of therapies that eradicate dormant DTCs before they develop into metastases, therefore substantially enhancing breast cancer patient survival.

New Additions to Our STTR Team

Snehal Joshi

Snehal Joshi, PhD

We are pleased to announce Snehal Joshi, PhD has joined us as our SAN (Specimen & Data Acquisition Network) Project Manager. She will manage operations, handle communications and track project deliverables. She will work with the SAN team members to facilitate partnership development across the network and develop outreach strategies. She will manage investigator requests to ensure they have access to high quality specimens, data and other research support.

Cleavon Joseph

Cleavon Joseph

We are also excited to announce Cleavon Joseph has joined our team us as our Specimen Data Management Tool Product Manager. He has over 9 years of experience working in technology consulting and product development, in both telecommunications and cyber security education spaces, ranging from testing to data analysis to product development. Bringing these varied experiences to Fred Hutch, his goal is to lead the development of a tool that will improve the way researchers within the consortium manage and maintain their specimens, leading to more efficient and effective research practices and results. Cleavon is working alongside two fantastic consulting resources, Sunil Ayalasomayajula and Rob Gunning, and together are bringing their considerable expertise, paired with our STTR program team knowledge of our researcher needs, to bring to fruition the specimen data management tool. See below for an update on this project.

Sunil Ayalasomayajula

Sunil Ayalasomayajula

Sunil Ayalasomayajula is a Change Management Consultant on the Specimen Data Management Tool. Sunil is passionate about preparing, equipping and supporting people through change and strongly believes that successful change management leads to great adoption and usage that help in delivering outstanding results.

Rob Gunning

Rob Gunning

Rob Gunning consults at Fred Hutch as an IT Business Analyst on the Specimen Data Management Team. He has worked with data and IT in the Seattle area for over 20 years and is excited to use that experience to help roll out the Specimen Data Management Tool. When the rain lets up, he is out biking, and trying to keep up with his three daughters!

Shauntel Thomas

Shauntel Thomas

We are very excited to welcome Shauntel Thomas (she/they) as the newest member of the STTR team as the STTR Program Assistant. She is an enrolled member of the Diné (Navajo) tribe from Wide Ruins, Arizona which is located on the Navajo Nation. She is a recent graduate from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado where she obtained her Bachelor of Arts in Public Health. Shauntel is excited to return to STTR after being a Program Intern in the Summer of 2019 and looks forward to working with the STTR team and network!

Whitney Schneider

Whitney Schneider, RN

Whitney Schneider has been a RN for close to a decade, and for 8 of those years, has been involved in clinical research in one manner or another. She started in ID, and spent time implementing phase 1-4 industry research, with special focus in HIV, before switching to pediatric oncology and federally funded trials. She has participated in almost every facet of clinical research and has been a leader her prior roles. Whitney is excited to bring her knowledge and enthusiasm to the Sarcoma team.

FY22 STTR Granting Program Winners 

Translational Research Pilot Grant Awardees 

Each year we provide pilot groups $100K to explore high-impact projects with high likelihood for translation within 5 years. This year, after a competitive process, we have selected the following proposals for funding. Congratulations to these researchers!


Pre-clinical test of a targeted gene therapy based on inhibition of progenitor renewal

    Drs. Boba Beronja, Brittany Barber, Peiran Zhou 

Characterizing tumor heterogeneity in advanced bladder cancer from rapid autopsies

    Drs. Andrew Hsieh, Gavin Ha 

PDX Annotation Support Grant Awardees 

This year, we created a unique funding opportunity focused on supporting the creation and annotation of PDX models. Each model will be sequenced and the resulting profiling data and deidentified annotation of the specimen will be contributed to a reference dataset in Oncoscape.

Development & optimization of HNSCC patient derived xenograft via genetic screen 

    Drs. Peiran Zhou, Boba Beronja, Brittany Barber, Claire Mills 

Developing PDX models for plasmacytoid urothelial carcinoma

    Drs. Ming Lam, Jonathan Wright, Funda Vakar-Lopez, Andrew Hsieh, Petros Grivas 

HMGA2 as a biomarker for nab-paclitaxel plus gemcitabine resistance in pancreas cancer

    Drs. Sita Kugel, Sunil Hingorani 

Epigenetic abnormalities in cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma

    Drs. Masaoki Kawasumi, Kostantin Kiianitsa 

Patient-derived models of Merkel cell carcinoma for therapeutic mechanistic studies

    Drs. Rashmi Bhakuni, Peter Goff, Carina Morningstar, Paul Nghiem 

Grant Winners

Special Congratulations

A special congratulations to our Director Dr. Eric Holland on receiving the NCI Outstanding Investigator Award! 

Coming Soon: Clinical Data Visualization in Oncoscape

Over the past 8 years, STTR has developed a robust clinical database within Caisis across a dozen disease groups, resulting in well-annotated data on over 23,000 patients. 

Unfortunately, limitations of Caisis have prevented many of our users from making full use of the resource. These barriers gave us the opportunity to receive user feedback, brainstorm, and ultimately explore the world of clinical data visualization within Oncoscape. 

At our February 2022 advisory committee meeting, we plan to demonstrate four clinical datasets exported from Caisis into Oncoscape utilizing a more powerful interface for advanced analysis. The datasets involved in this rollout are for the disease groups of Brain, Liver, Sarcoma, and Pancreas. After completing a REDCap survey specifying one’s needs, STTR members will be granted access to a deidentified disease group focused dataset within Oncoscape.

Reach out to learn more!


Specimen & Data Acquisition Network (SAN) 

Among many challenges faced by the translational research community, the ability to find and access human-derived specimens and datasets is common and often leads to research bottlenecks and delays. These hurdles are not limited to one institution but common across all research centers. To help investigators with these challenges, SAN was formed in 2019 as a collaborative network of research and healthcare institutions in the PNW.  

SAN is a multifunctional resource with a mission to help researchers and regional partners to remove barriers and working work toward the goal of accelerating innovation in patient care​. SAN currently has 8 network partners and with the Coordinating Center is based at Fred Hutch.  

No matter where you are in the process, we can help you remove roadblocks and advance your science. 

Please contact us at with any requests. More information about the SAN can be found here.  


Specimen Data Management Tool  

SDMT Vision

The Specimen Data Management Tool is finally becoming a reality! After several years of engaging the research community and gaining buy-in from leadership, we secured project funding in mid-2021. Following a thorough request for proposals process this fall, we have selected OpenSpecimen as the enterprise specimen data management tool. Thank you to everyone who participated in any part of this process, we appreciate your partnership and look forward to partnering into the future to ensure this tool is, and continues to be, responsive to your needs.  

We are beginning engagement with the vendor and have been meeting with selected pilot groups over the past 6 months to ensure we are prepared to onboard them into the tool successfully. 

High-level timeline (a more detailed version is also available at our project dashboard here)

  • Tool Stand Up: January-February 2022 

  • Begin Pilot Group Onboarding: March 2022

To learn more about the tool and our project, visit our website here, or email us with any questions:

Specimen Data Tool

New STTR Members 

We welcomed some new faces to STTR. We are excited to hear and support all the exciting research from these groups!

Harveshp Mogal, MD, MS - Colorectal, Liver, Melanoma, Sarcoma, Skin/Cutaneous Oncology

Katherine Tarlock, MD - Leukemia, Lymphoma, MDS

Myron Evans II, PhD - Brain, Sarcoma

James Alvarez, PhD - Breast

Majid Chalian, MD - MDS/MPN, Myeloma, Sarcoma

Behnam Nabet, PhD - Pancreas

Siobhan Pattwell, PhD - Brain, Sarcoma

Gavin Ha, PhD - Bladder, Breast, Prostate

Pattana Wangaryattawanich, MD - Brain, Head & Neck

Erin Crotty, MD - Brain

Manu Setty, PhD - Head & Neck, MDS

Thank you for your engagement with STTR.  

STTR will continue to be here to support you. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to our team or access our STTR member site at any time for more resources.