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Islam, Emerson Named Recipients of Early-Career Science Award

June 1, 2020
Gillings School of Global Public Health
Heads of Jessica and Marc

Jessica Yasmine Islam and Marc A. Emerson

Two postdoctoral research associates from University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center —both of whom earned doctoral degrees at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health — have been announced as recipients of an award honoring the late Dr. Eddie Méndez, a physician-scientist and based at the Seattle-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Jessica Yasmine Islam, and Marc A. Emerson, were named as two of nine recipients of the award, which goes to early-career scientists, and particularly those from underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds.

“We have been able to increase the number of awardees, and this year we are recognizing an outstanding group of nine postdoctoral fellows whose research spans basic sciences to public health sciences and focuses on various cancers and infectious diseases,” said Christopher Li, faculty director for the Fred Hutch Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, who chaired this year’s award selection committee.

Méndez is remembered as an advocate for young scientists and for his commitment to cancer research. He died in 2018 at age 45. A native of Puerto Rico, he became known for his expertise in head and neck cancers and for being passionate about developing new therapies to help prevent cancer treatment side effects and save patients’ lives.

Solicited from universities and cancer research centers around the U.S., the awardees reflect the spirit of Méndez and represent a breadth of topics and fields. Their research interests include T-cell therapies, cancer outcomes among HIV-positive patients, health disparities in American Indians and acute myeloid leukemia therapies.

Of the award recipients, Li said, “Each awardee has made substantial contributions to both research and to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in science. We deeply appreciate support from center leadership to continue this important program aimed at recognizing outstanding early-career, underrepresented minority scientists as we work to develop a more diverse workforce.”


Islam received her doctorate in epidemiology from the Gillings School. Her dissertation work investigated the use of self-collection for cervical cancer screening in Kenya by evaluating the clinical validity of HPV mRNA testing and the cost-effectiveness of screening delivery through community health campaigns. Broadly, her research interests include the prevention of cancers caused by infections, cancer screening disparities in the United States and cancer outcomes among the immunosuppressed. Currently, Islam is a first-year postdoctoral fellow on the Cancer Care Quality Training program, an NCI-funded T32 fellowship.


Emerson received his doctorate in epidemiology from the Gillings School and his Master’s of Public Health degree in epidemiology from San Diego State University. His research is focused on epidemiology, methodology and partnerships in order to address cancer disparities in American Indian people. Specifically, Emerson has investigated cancer risk factors and exposures, access to care and cancer mortality among American Indians, with the goal of developing culturally relevant interventions to reduce cancer disparities.

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