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UC graduate says virus won't spoil his special day

Louisville native hopes his research will advance our understanding of blood cancers

Mark Althoff won’t let COVID-19 dampen his big accomplishment.

The 29-year-old Louisville native is graduating with a doctoral degree in the University of Cincinnati’s Cancer and Cell Biology graduate program. He is one of 51 master’s and 14 doctoral students who will be recognized during a virtual graduation ceremony set for graduate students in the College of Medicine on Friday, May 22, from 2-3 p.m. A link for this virtual ceremony is being sent to graduating students to share with their networks.

“I hope everyone graduating this spring is able to find joy during this occasion,” says Althoff. “Graduation happens to be a virtual one, but it shouldn’t negate the commitment and persistence we all have put forth to reach our goals. I can’t speak for others, but knowing that my family and friends are proud of my accomplishments is rewarding enough for me. I was patient in completing this degree and I can be patient a little while longer in order to physically celebrate with family and friends.”

Mark Althoff and his wife, Sara, and their daughter, Isla.

Mark Althoff and his wife, Sara, and their daughter, Isla. Photo/Mark Althoff.

Althoff and his wife, Sara, and their 9-month-old daughter, Isla, will watch the virtual ceremony from home. He’s considering a bigger gathering with friends and family in the future. The virtual ceremony will feature congratulatory remarks from Andrew Filak, MD, dean of the College of Medicine, UC President Neville Pinto, PhD, and Melanie Cushion, PhD, associate dean for research in the College of Medicine. All graduates have been asked to submit photos for the ceremony; each name will be read aloud while the graduate’s image is displayed.

“Graduation is very different this year, but we are living in an unprecedented era impacted by COVID-19,” says Iain Cartwright, PhD, associate dean and director of the Office of Graduate Education in the College of Medicine. “Our hope is to celebrate our graduates’ achievements in a way that is safe but meaningful and to wish them all a highly successful future knowing their knowledge and devotion to scientific discovery will serve our nation well.”

Althoff plans to continue his research with a postdoctoral fellowship after graduation. At UC he spent seven years researching the molecular mechanisms that drive hematopoietic stem cell fate. He currently works in the laboratory of Jose Cancelas Perez, MD, PhD, a Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center researcher who is also director of research at Hoxworth Blood Center and a UC professor of pediatrics.

His dissertation studies with Cancelas Perez were largely focused on understanding fundamental hematopoietic stem cell biology and how it may offer a therapeutic avenue into addressing blood cancers and hematologic disorders such as cytopenias, leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma. During his time in the College of Medicine Althoff was a recipient of a Ryan Fellowship, the college’s highest award for graduate students who show exceptional promise of future impact in biomedical research.

Mark Althoff shown with Jose Cancelas Perez, MD, PhD.

Mark Althoff shown with Jose Cancelas Perez, MD, PhD. Photo/Mark Althoff.

“I want to continue my studies in pursuit of a successful and impactful scientific career in academia,” says Althoff. “With some good luck, I may eventually land a tenure-track professorship and lead an innovative research laboratory.”

Althoff says many, though not all, of his fondest UC memories revolve around his colleagues.

“Even on the most difficult of days, we could always find something worth smiling about,” says Althoff. “Outside of the friendly and collaborative research environment, UC and Cincinnati Children’s will always hold a special place in my heart because it is where my wife and I began our greatest adventure together. Our daughter was born seven months prior to my dissertation defense.”

Featured image at top: Graduation cap and gown. Photo/Colleen Kelley/UC Creative + Brand.

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