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2020 Director’s Award, Pilot and Travel Award Recipients Announced

Recognizing cancer center members and supporters

October 30, 2020

The University of Kansas Cancer Center announced its 2020 recipients of the Director’s Awards, which recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to the cancer center’s mission, and Pilot Awards, which funds promising novel research being conducted by cancer center members. Travel Award recipients, who receive financial support to attend scientific conferences, were also announced.

The announcements were made at the institution’s first-ever Cancer Research Week, a virtual event highlighting the cancer center’s exciting research efforts. Activities included poster sessions for each cancer center research program, rapid reactor sessions led by patient research advocates, and culminated with the annual research symposium on Oct 30. More than 260 people participated in Cancer Research Week activities.

2020 Director’s Award Recipients

Basic Science

  • Steven Soper, PhD, Foundation Distinguished Professor, Chemistry and Mechanical Engineering

Civic Leadership & Philanthropy

  • Fred Logan, chair, Masonic Cancer Alliance Partners Advisory Board; chair, Cancer Funding Partners

Clinical Science

  • Joaquina Baranda, MD, Director, Early Phase Program

Clinical Trial Accrual

  • Anup Kasi, MD, Medical Oncologist

Closing Disparities

  • Ronald Chen, MD, MPH, Associate Director, Health Equity

Community Clinical Trial Accrual

  • Gregory Crane, MD, Medical Oncologist


  • Jim Denning, Kansas State Senator


  • Kristi Neufeld, PhD, Co-leader, Cancer Biology research program


  • Dinesh Pal Mudaranthakam, MS, MBA, Director, Research Information Technology

William Jewell Team Science

  • Liang Xu, MD, PhD, Associate Professor, Radiation Oncology
  • Dan Dixon, PhD, Co-leader, Drug Discovery, Delivery and Experimental Therapeutics research program

Young Scientist

  • Anwaar Saeed, MD, Medical Oncologist

Pilot Awards

  • Mark Farrell, PhD, Potentiating the activity of anti-CD20 antibodies
  • Liang Xu, MD, PhD, Drug the Undruggable Musashi Oncoprotein by Fragment-based Drug Discovery
  • Joan Lewis-Wambi, PhD, Disrupting IFNα-NF-κB crosstalk to suppress IFITM1 expression in triple-negative breast cancer: A novel approach to therapy
  • Chelsea Salyer, MD, Understanding Disparities in Genetic Testing Among Black Women with Ovarian Cancer

Travel Awards

Recipients receive support to attend conferences and/or scientific meetings.

Cancer Prevention and Control

Student Category

  • Jordan Baker, Health factor trends across the KU Cancer Center catchment area
  • Dinesh Pal Mudaranthakam, Financial implications among the cancer patients – a national level perception

Postdoctoral/Trainee Category

  • Chelsea Salyer, MD, Cervical cancer screening and follow-up among women in the criminal-legal system

    Junior Faculty Category

  • Eleanor L. S. Leavens, Changes in dependence, withdrawal and craving among adult smokers who switch to nicotine salt pod-based e-cigarettes
  • Heather Nelson-Brantley, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, CCRN-K, The impact of joining an accountable care organization on the cancer screening practices of rural primary care clinics
  • Andrew W. Roberts, PharmD, PhD, Association of persistent opioid use with serious adverse events among older adult survivors of breast cancer

Cancer Biology

Student Category

  • Diana Sofía Acevedo, The CCL2/CCR2 chemokine signaling regulates early stage breast cancer survival andinvasion through c-MET dependent mechanisms
  • Joe Ambrose, Pancreatic cancer lipid theft is mediated by Perilipin 1 loss and MAP Kinase signaling in adipocytes
  • Max Fairlamb, Visualizing DNA repair at the single molecule level
  • Jarrid Jack, Dual MEK and AKT inhibition strategy for pancreatic cancer
  • Olivia Provance, Disrupting interferon-alpha and NF-kappaB crosstalk suppresses IFITM1 expression attenuating triple-negative breast cancer aggression
  • Siddharth Subham, Investigating the role of DCLK1 variants in stemness and tumor growth in colon cancer
  • Nanda Kumar Yellapu, Enhanced synergic anti proliferative activity of JQ1 and GSK2801 against triple-negative breast cancer

Postdoctoral/Trainee Category

  • Joseph Domino, MD, MPH, Targeting tumor-associated astrocytes in glioblastoma treatment
  • Atsushi Kaida, DNAJA1 promotes cancer metastasis through interaction with mutant p53
  • Giridhar Mudduluru, Crk and CrkL play critical roles in cancer cell migration in a glioblastoma cell model
  • Amy Whitaker, PhD, APE1: A DNA repair swiss army knife

Junior Faculty Category

  • Prasad Dandawate, PhD, Promethazine targets prolactin-signaling and inhibit cancer growth in combination with Gemcitabine and Paclitaxel
  • Yanming Li, Graphical component boosting for network genome-wide association studies
  • Alejandro Parrales, PhD, Compound that capitalize vulnerabilities of cancer cells lacking wild-type p53

Drug Discovery, Delivery and Experimental Therapeutics

Student Category

  • Benjamin K. Gibbs, Discovery of putative KIF15 inhibitors for the treatment of epithelial ovarian cancers
  • Ruolin Lu, Localized delivery and retention of a TLR agonist shows cancer efficacy with reduced potential for systemic toxicity
  • Rachel Yoder, Impact of low versus negative estrogen/progesterone receptor status on clinico-pathologic characteristics and survival outcomes in HER2-negative breast cancer

Postdoctoral/Trainee Category

  • Vikalp Vishwakarma, PhD, Control of intestinal cell differentiation and bacterial symbiosis through the Notch signaling pathway by RNA-binding protein Tristetraprolin

    Junior Faculty Category

  • John M. Perry, PhD, Harnessing the Immune System to Target Therapy-Resistant Cancer Stem Cells
  • Benjamin L. Woolbright, PhD, Intersection of aging, the microbiome and inflammation in a mouse model of bladder cancer


Student Category

  • Dinesh Pal Mudaranthakam, Financial Implications among the cancer patients – a national level perception
  • Rosalyn Zimmermann, Breast Cancer Metastasis Suppressor 1 (BRMS1) alters cancer-associated protein interactors based on phospho-status

Junior Faculty

  • Jeffrey A. Thompson, PhD, The need to study rural cancer outcome disparities on the local level: A case study in Kansas and Missouri

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