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A Diverse Workforce with a Shared Mission

Thousands of people, one goal: to end cancer as we know it. Whether it's at the bench or bedside, in a classroom or in an office, the dedicated individuals that make up the cancer research workforce are collaborating across disciplines, mentoring the next generation of diverse talent, and developing an inclusive pipeline—all to propel cancer research into the future.

From left, Dr. Xin Wei Wang, Ana Consuelo Matiella, Dr. Don Dizon, and Dr. Robert Yarchoan

Credit: National Cancer Institute

Dr. Xin Wei Wang

Demonstrates exemplary mentorship and a commitment to supporting trainees’ career growth

We fondly remember those who guided us through our first work experiences. Described by mentees as a truly caring leader, Dr. Xin Wei Wang is one of these guides—he encourages innovative thinking, scientific advancement, and career development in everyone he mentors. Hailing from China, Dr. Wang came to the United States to continue his education and understands the value of getting advice during one’s professional journey. His open-door policy, eagerness to share knowledge, and push to develop skills both in and out of one’s area of expertise is appreciated by all in his lab and led to an NCI Mentor of Merit Award. A renowned researcher, he worked with a multidisciplinary, international team to identify risk factors for liver cancer in people with hepatitis. They’re now testing whether a blood test checking for virus exposure can detect liver cancer early.

Ana Consuelo Matiella

Illustrates how different fields like communications and entrepreneurship are part of the cancer workforce

When she was a young girl, Ana Consuelo Matiella’s aunt, a teacher in Mexico, taught her to write stories. Matiella took this talent and ran with it. An author and bilingual health communications specialist, she’s dedicated over 30 years to improving the health of Latinos. With her daughter, she created De Las Mías, a digital platform for Latinas which includes bilingual apps and a website. It promotes healthier lives to mitigate chronic conditions like diabetes, as well as cancers with lifestyle-related risk factors, like breast cancer—the leading cause of cancer death in Latinas. Matiella was inspired to create her app when she noticed that health and fitness content platforms weren’t designed with Latinas’ needs in mind. She wanted to change that, and with funding from NCI’s Small Business Innovation Research program, she developed a health education tool that emphasizes body positivity and promotes healthy habits that incorporate the food and culture of users.

Dr. Don Dizon

Helps develop and preserve an equitable and inclusive workforce pipeline

Dr. Don Dizon takes being an ally to women seriously. Growing up with four sisters and mentored by many accomplished women throughout his career, he makes a point to highlight his female colleagues for their professional achievements in turn. This could be through ensuring their contributions are recognized, recommending them for a speaking engagement, sharing opportunities, or using his platform to promote their work. To him, it is critical that oncology leaders reflect the diversity of the populations they treat, which means ensuring equity as it relates to gender, racial, geographic, and sexual orientation. As a mentor, he emphasizes collaboration when helping others define their goals and develop plans for success. A leading voice for oncology on social media, Dr. Dizon (@drdonsdizon) makes thoughtful and credible cancer information more accessible on apps like Instagram and TikTok, enabling conversations among patients, caregivers, and researchers.

Dr. Robert Yarchoan

Collaborates across fields to make an impact in HIV and cancer research

You might wonder how HIV/AIDS and cancer research intersect. As a researcher in both areas and the inaugural director of NCI’s Office of HIV and AIDS Malignancy, Dr. Robert Yarchoan will tell you that there is rich cross-fertilization between these fields. Cancer research in retroviruses and immunology have significantly impacted AIDS research, which in turn has informed our understanding of virus-induced cancers, T-cell immunity, and how immunodeficiency affects tumor development. Beginning his career before AIDS was recognized, Dr. Yarchoan witnessed this progress firsthand. Although many doubted whether any drug could be developed to fight AIDS, he worked with Drs. Samuel Broder and Hiroaki Mitsuya on the first AIDS drugs, including azidothymidine (AZT), transforming a fatal disease into a chronic one. He also developed therapies for AIDS-related cancers like Kaposi sarcoma. Throughout his career, keeping active by running (even training for marathons), hiking, and skiing has helped sustain him.

From left, Andie Conching, Keven Stonewall, Perisa Ashar, and Rishab Jain

Andie Conching

Solidified passion to reduce health disparities through meaningful training and mentorship

Native Hawaiian, surfer, baker, and aspiring physician Andie Conching was drawn to cancer research because of the positive changes it can have on not just the individual, but also their family, community, and nation. She was part of the second cohort of NCI’s Intramural Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences (iCURE) program and an NCI postbaccalaureate Cancer Research Training Award fellow for 2 years. Her laboratory experience gave her valuable insight into human health and disease, and her mentors, Drs. Lino Tessarollo and Alison Lin, challenged her to think critically, work passionately, and pursue excellence. With this foundation, Conching began medical school ready to execute meaningful science that could reduce health disparities and transform care delivery in communities like her own. She plans to take her experiences and continue strongly advocating for vulnerable communities in her hometown of Honolulu, both as a researcher and a physician.

Keven Stonewall

Performed groundbreaking colon cancer research as a teen and is inspiring others in underserved communities

Third-year medical student Keven Stonewall’s dream of doing research in a lab began when he was introduced to microscopes at age 10. Four years later, his friend’s uncle passed away from colon cancer, prompting him to learn more about the disease. At 17, he wanted to combine his interests in oncology and research but didn’t know where to start. Googling how to write a research proposal, he emailed 200 research professors with his ideas but only heard back from one who offered him a position. It was during this internship with Dr. Carl Ruby at Rush University that Stonewall performed groundbreaking research that helped put a colon cancer vaccine for older adults in the works. But he didn’t stop there. Stonewall also uses his platform to inspire youth and emphasize health literacy in underserved communities.

Perisa Ashar

High school cancer researcher working to foster interest in STEM in younger generations

Perisa Ashar’s first laboratory research project was in 8th grade, when she saw if her homemade mushroom and pineapple enzyme solutions reduced the ability of prostate cancer cells to survive. Recently, she used molecular biomarkers and biopsies from open-access databases to aid in the rapid detection of lung cancer via inexpensive, noninvasive tests. With this kind of scientific curiosity and determination, it’s no wonder that Ashar became a 2021 Regeneron Science Talent Search scholar, among other achievements. Also keen to inspire future generations, she founded STEMinate, which hosts coding, robotics, and chemistry workshops for elementary and middle school students in underserved areas. The organization currently has over 10 chapters, including locations in the United States, South Korea, Nigeria, and other countries. She hopes her work will inspire younger students, especially girls and African Americans, to pursue careers in research.

Rishab Jain

In middle school, developed an algorithm to more accurately locate the pancreas

High school junior Rishab Jain’s name is written in the stars—literally. In 2018, Massachusetts Institute of Technology named minor planet 12900 after him because in 8th grade, at just 13 years old, Jain developed software called PCDLS Net that uses artificial intelligence to locate the pancreas—an organ sometimes difficult to detect in body scans—during radiation therapy, with 98.4% accuracy. Named America’s Top Young Scientist in 2018, he hopes to apply this technique to MRI-guided radiation therapy for pancreatic cancer with the long-term goal of minimizing radiation exposure to healthy tissue. One of TIME magazine’s 2018 25 Most Influential Teens, Jain has also been featured in Teen Vogue and on Good Morning America. He maintains a YouTube channel that teaches people how to use Discord and is considering studying biomedical engineering before going to medical school.

The people who make up the cancer research workforce are fulfilling the commitment to cancer progress that began with the signing of the National Cancer Act of 1971. Find out more about the act.

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