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Building on the Lifesaving Work of Cancer Research

Six Trainees at HCI Collage
Lindsay Hunter, MD | Helen Lillie, PhD | Emilio Cortes-Sanchez | Dilru Silva, BS | Kristen Kelley, MD | Zannel Blanchard, BS

From the beginning, Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) has made it part of our mission to educate and train the next generation of scientists and physicians in order to continue the lifesaving work of cancer research. Here, some of our trainees share what drives their research, why they chose HCI, and how the COVID-19 pandemic emphasized the importance of collaboration and mentor support as they begin and build upon their careers.

Lindsay Hunter as a Trainee

"I hope to combine my interests in symptom management research and clinical trials with the goal of improving the quality of life for patients with cancer. Patients often have to make the difficult decision of pursuing treatment or focusing on quality of life when we should be able to provide both. I want to be part of the next generation of physician researchers who move the needle forward."

Lindsay Hunter, MD 
Oncology and Hematology Fellow 
HCI Mentors: Heloisa Soares, MD, PhD

Helen Lillie as a Trainee

"I was interested in Utah for my training because of the high quality of work produced here and the resources available through HCI. The Utah research community holds itself to a high standard of excellence while also being nurturing and supportive. The people here genuinely care about the impact of their research and go above and beyond to help trainees in their development as scholars."

Helen Lillie, PhD
Health Communication and Technology Postdoctoral Fellow
HCI Mentor: Jakob D. Jensen, PhD

Emilio Cortes-Sanchez as a Trainee

"The opportunity to work in an NCI-Designated Cancer Center that has a bench-to-bed research motto attracted me to HCI. As a scientist, sometimes it is hard to see any direct benefit of your research. However, here at HCI I feel our research is directly connected to patient care."

Emilio Cortes-Sanchez
Oncological Sciences Postdoctoral Fellow
HCI Mentors: Alana Welm, PhD, and Bryan Welm, PhD

Dilru Silva as a Trainee

"Because of the well-established relationship between the hospital and research institute and the infrastructure set up by my mentors, the combination therapy we discovered in my pancreatic cancer research was used to treat a patient here and led to the extension of his life. Knowing my work had an impact on a patient and has the power to help many more patients feels unreal and highlights that the prioritization of the patient extends to the research community."

Dilru Silva, BS
PhD Candidate, Bioscience Program
HCI Mentors: Martin McMahon, PhD, and Conan Kinsey, MD, PhD

Kristen Kelley as a Trainee

"The pandemic has made research work feel more isolated. It can be difficult to establish connections for collaboration in the virtual world. I feel fortunate that I was already well established with my research mentor prior to the onset of the pandemic. Having a great mentor is essential to the success of any researcher."

Kristen Kelley, MD
Hematology and Oncology Fellow
HCI Mentor: Christos Vaklavas, MD

Zannel Blanchard as a Trainee

"I enjoy the supportive environment as well as the exposure to cutting-edge research at HCI. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have shifted from being in the lab space 8–10 hours a day and frequently collaborating with scientists in my immediate area to focusing on critical experiments and navigating online resources such as Zoom for collaborations. Being part of a department that thrives on collaboration, community, and trainee development has been invaluable."

Zannel Blanchard, BS
PhD Candidate, Oncological Sciences
PhD Candidate, Molecular Biology
HCI Mentor: Jay Gertz, PhD

Cancer touches all of us.