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Four promising young investigators honored as Harrison Scholars

May 08, 2020


VCU Massey Cancer Center recently named four new Harrison Scholars. Established by the Harrison Family Foundation, the program honors especially promising young researchers by providing funding to help them vet new ideas and advance their cancer research. Harrison Scholars have a three-year tenure during which they receive $50,000 annually.

"The Harrison family is so proud to continue our support of young investigators as they pursue new ways to diagnose and treat cancer,” said Mary Keevil of the Harrison Family Foundation. “Our family believes that supporting junior researchers is one of the best ways we can alter the future of this disease and bring hope to the world.”

The following researchers were named Harrison Scholars:

Sunny Jung Kim headshot

“Sunny” Sun Jung Kim, Ph.D., M.S., M.A.
A member of Massey’s Cancer Prevention and Control research program, Kim focuses her research on leveraging social/mobile technologies for health communications, cancer risk behaviors, education, population health and cancer disparities. Cancer disparities research is a priority at Massey and an area of study that has garnered the cancer center national recognition. Kim recently worked on a study that leveraged social media to evaluate rural and urban HPV vaccination disparities, and she is currently a collaborator on a project called Together for Health - Virginia that will help identify health needs in communities throughout the state.

“It is such an honor to receive the Harrison Scholar award and be part of the Harrison Scholar program. I am very excited to build and expand my research program on health communication and technologies,” she said.


Eddie Chae headshot

“Eddie” Wook-Jin Chae, Ph.D.

Chae, a member of Massey’s Cancer Cell Signaling research program, joined the cancer center in 2019. He has been published in more than 25 peer-reviewed journals and focuses his research on immunology, a Massey research priority. Chae studies how the protein Dickkopf1 (DKK1) interrupts the immune system’s response to cancer and other inflammatory diseases. His findings could lead to the development of a DKK1 antibody, which may improve treatments for a variety of cancer types.

“Multidisciplinary expertise is required to further advance my research,” Chae said. “I am very impressed by how open Massey research members are to new investigators and how many resources there are available at Massey.”


Katherine Tossas

Katherine Tossas, Ph.D., M.S.

Tossas joined Massey as a member of the Cancer Prevention and Control research program in March 2020. Her work and research are grounded in health equity and centered on elucidating how structural determinants of health, such as differential access to care, impact cancer outcomes for underserved and underrepresented populations. Tossas is the director of catchment area data alignment in the Office of Health Equity and Disparities Research at Massey and an assistant professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Policy at the VCU School of Medicine. Most recently, she has started focusing on the use of machine learning methodologies to explore the potential influence of the microbiome on HPV-related cancers.

“I am truly humbled to receive the Harrison Scholarship, and I am thankful to the Harrison family and to the Massey Cancer Center for investing in my research, as it is this kind of investment that promotes innovation and accelerates cancer discoveries," Tossas said. "I am excited and aligned with them in the mission to improve the health of underserved communities, in this case through the lens of cancer, until health equity is achieved.”


Can Senkal headshot

Can Senkal, Ph.D.

Senkal became a member of Massey’s Cancer Cell Signaling program in 2019. His research centers around two Massey research priorities: metabolism and inflammation in cancer and precision medicine and obesity. His research has been included in more than 30 publications, and he has received numerous awards, including a 2019 National Cancer Institute MERIT Award for early-stage investigators. In addition to the funding he receives as a Harrison Scholar, the NCI award is helping​ Senkal study the roles and regulation of sphingolipids, especially ceramides, in tumor initiation, response to therapy​ and metastasis. His research findings could help develop novel cancer therapies for several cancer types, such as colon and pancreatic cancers.

“I am very grateful for the recognition and the research funding that was generously made available by the Harrison Family Foundation,” said Senkal. “We are privileged to have such excellent support at the Massey Cancer Center to carry out cutting-edge basic cancer research to help seed the development of novel anti-cancer therapies in the future.”


The Harrison Scholars program is an important recruitment and retention tool and helps Massey attract the best and brightest young minds. These scientists are the future of cancer research, and philanthropy is a critical component to the advancement of their work and Massey’s research priorities. Many Harrison Scholars remain at Massey and progress into leaders in their fields. They are making groundbreaking discoveries in cancer research and improving patient care in Richmond and around the world.

To learn more about how you can support new ideas and promising research at VCU Massey Cancer Center, contact Massey’s Office of Development at (804) 828-1450.

Written by: Massey Communications Office

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