Research symposium unites scientists passionate about fighting cancer

29th Annual Cancer Research Symposium reports on new breakthroughs, holds science contest involving over 50 projects


UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center held its 29th Annual Cancer Research Symposium Oct. 5-6, bringing together scientists devoted to solving cancer’s many mysteries. This year’s two-day in-person event spanned topics from prevention to survivorship.

Keynote and panel discussions focused on the latest breakthroughs impacting multiple myeloma and cancers of the pancreas, kidney and lungs. There were also formal presentations on hot topics such as obesity and the risk of early colorectal cancer. Experts also shared  encouraging results on a jump in tobacco quit rates among cancer patients thanks to the cancer center’s Stop Tobacco Program. Also discussed was how to build trust with Native American tribal communities before conducting cancer research.

Community outreach session

Isabel Duron on the big screens
Presidential appointee and cancer survivor Ysabel Duran speaking at 29th Annual Cancer Research Symposium.

A new focus this year was a session on community outreach and engagement, chaired by Laura Fejerman, the new associate director for the Office of Community Outreach and Engagement (COE). It featured Chester Austin from Northern Valley Indian Health, and Ysabel Duron with The Latino Cancer Institute, joined by Julie Dang, COE executive director, and Gerardo Mackenzie with the Department of Nutrition.  Duron is a presidential appointee to the National Cancer Advisory Board at the National Cancer Institute. The award-winning veteran TV newscaster from the Bay Area is also a cancer survivor. She had advice for cancer researchers who want to work with community partners.

“Do not assume you know best,” Duron said. “Don’t start off with asking your questions. First, listen to their concerns.”

David R. Gandara Lectureship Award

The final keynote speaker was Karen Reckamp who was presented with the David R. Gandara Lectureship Award. Reckamp is a leading expert on lung cancer and director of the Division of Medical Oncology at Cedars-Sinai Cancer in Los Angeles. The award is presented annually at the symposium to honor the work of David Gandara, a UC Davis clinician-scientist and internationally renowned lung cancer researcher and biomarker expert.

Blonde haired woman in suit accepting crystal award from two men and a woman on stage in front of podium.
Karen Reckamp receives David R. Gandara Lectureship Award from (to her left) David Gandara, (to her right) Primo “Lucky” Lara, Jr., cancer center director, and Megan Daly, associate director for clinical research at the cancer center.

Gandara is a professor emeritus and serves as the co-director of the cancer center’s new Center for Experimental Therapeutics in Cancer. Reckamp said she has learned “4 Cs” from Gandara over the years and, during her presentation, passed them along to other researchers in the audience. She said that to make a difference in the cancer fight you must show:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Creativity
  3. Collaboration
  4. Community

The ultimate collaborators, Reckamp said, come from the community and are found by being curious and creative.

Friday’s finale

“For 29 years, this event has allowed us to introduce new faculty, feature research by students and promote programmatic and multidisciplinary interactions,” said cancer center Director Primo “Lucky” Lara Jr. “The event is a remarkably productive experience that includes interacting with the audience and sharing knowledge.”

African American woman in yellow dress in front of poster talking to Asian American woman.
First place poster presenter Rachisan Djiake Tihagam explaining her research on triple-negative breast cancer in African American women.

More than 50 poster presentations were on display at the annual research symposium held in the James E. Goodnight, Auditorium at the cancer center. Seasoned cancer investigators as well as postdoctoral research scholars, and graduate students highlighted their innovative science and competed for cash prizes. The winners were:

1st Place – Rachisan Djiake Tihagam ($750)
Collaborators: Song Lou, Kammi Liu, Arjun tushir Singh, Sanchita Bhatnagar.
Title: A Trim37 Risk Variant rs57141087 Contributes to Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Onset and Progression in African American Women

2nd Place – Amanda Allen ($500)
Collaborators: Erin Nella, Daniel Black, Danielle Baham, Luis Godow, Lisa Brown, David Cooke.
Title: The Impact of a Perioperative Nutrition Protocol in Reducing Hospital Acquired Malnutrition in Patients with Esophageal Cancer

3rd Place – Noemi Castro ($350)
Collaborators: Michelle Hu, Anatasia Berg, Ruiwi Liu, Kit S. Lam, Kermit L. Carraway III
Title: Chemically Optimizing Amiloride to Generate Highly Effective Derivatives that Selectively Target Triple-Negative Brast Cancer Stem Cells

UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center

UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute-designated center serving the Central Valley and inland Northern California, a region of more than 6 million people. Its specialists provide compassionate, comprehensive care for more than 100,000 adults and children every year and access to more than 200 active clinical trials at any given time. Its innovative research program engages more than 240 scientists at UC Davis who work collaboratively to advance discovery of new tools to diagnose and treat cancer. Patients have access to leading-edge care, including immunotherapy and other targeted treatments. Its Office of Community Outreach and Engagement addresses disparities in cancer outcomes across diverse populations, and the cancer center provides comprehensive education and workforce development programs for the next generation of clinicians and scientists. For more information, visit