By Meg DePanise ’15
Experiential learning is a hallmark of a Hood education, and for budding scientists and technologists there is no shortage of opportunities. Located in a hive of top R&D firms, biotech and pharmaceutical companies, and nearby federal and private laboratories, Hood is well connected to the best. No company has been more connected with Hood than Leidos Biomedical Research, Inc. Together, Hood and Leidos Biomed are turning connection into opportunity and launching initiatives that will benefit Hood students and faculty, Leidos Biomed employees, and the larger Frederick community.
Trained in the liberal arts and equipped with a Hood master’s degree in biomedical science, John-Paul Denson is doing his part in cancer research at Leidos Biomedical Research, Inc.
Denson works with RAS genes, which cause about 30 percent of all human cancers. The overall goal of his program is to better understand and target cancers driven by mutations in the RAS pathway.
“We have all been affected by cancer, whether personally or somebody close to us, so once I got a chance to work towards helping fight this awful disease it hooked me,” Denson said. “It’s very motivating and rewarding to even contribute a small portion to the large and amazing cancer research community.”
When Denson first joined NCI/SAIC Frederick (now Leidos Biomedical Research) he knew he wanted to take advantage of the educational assistance program.
“Hood was convenient since I lived and worked in Frederick, but its biomedical science program also had a great reputation when I asked around to my work colleagues,” he said.
Antonio Punzo is using his bachelor’s degree in computer science as a program analyst at Leidos Biomedical.
He is responsible for developing, maintaining and enhancing software that is used by several government research laboratories. Many of his projects require processing and tracking subjects, samples and studies that involve massive amounts of data, which must be processed and retrieved in a short amount of time.
“As a developer, my main goal is to develop software that will deliver fast and accurate data to the user, while providing flexible and easy-to-use tools to enhance their work performance,” he said.
As a developmental scientist at Leidos, Rachel Beyer provides support to the National Cancer Institute Surgery Branch, a pioneering laboratory in the field of cancer immunotherapy (the use of the human immune system to treat cancer).
Her specific role is to ensure that patient cells that have been modified in the laboratory are safe for infusion into the patients. She coordinates and manages the testing required for safety by the FDA, and she investigates potential alternative ways to modify a patient cell in the lab, which may be more safe than what is currently used.
“I am part of a large team that conducts first-in-human clinical trials to investigate new therapeutic options in immunotherapy,” said Beyer. “We are always looking for ways to improve the process of engineering cells for immunotherapies as well as ensuring the safety and rigor of the processes since these are the patient’s cells that are modified and administered back to the patient.”
Now in her ninth year at the company, Lauren Procter first found her way to Leidos Biomedical Research, Inc. during her senior year when she completed an independent study with professor of biology Craig Laufer, Ph.D.
“I gained hands-on research experience while supporting Dr. Laufer’s research on pectinolytic enzymes for biofuel production from sugar beet pulp,” she said. “Nearing graduation, I spoke to Dr. Laufer about career paths and he was able to connect me with Dr. Dominic Esposito, a scientist at Leidos Biomedical Research (formerly, SAIC-Frederick).”