Image of Ashlie Santaliz Casiano.

Urbana, Ill. The Cancer Center at Illinois (CCIL) is excited to announce the recipient of the Fall 2021 Kristine Neuhoff Twyman Breast Cancer Scholarship. Ashlie Santaliz Casiano, graduate student in the Division of Nutritional Sciences, received the award to further her research in breast cancer and health disparities.   

“It is a great privilege to be selected as a recipient of the Kristine Neuhoff Twyman scholarship. Scholarships like this reduce the financial barriers we face as graduate students, making our education and research experience more productive and smoother. Also, it is positive encouragement for me during my Ph.D. training as I continue to become an independent researcher and professor. My professional mission is to impact the lives of patients with metastatic breast cancer positively. I intend to achieve this by developing systems that can model the complexity of breast cancer tumors while increasing health disparity awareness by emphasizing racial groups currently not well studied,” Santaliz Casiano said.


Also, a trainee in the CCIL’s Tissue Microenvironment (TiME) program, Santaliz Casiano works in the lab of CCIL scientist Zeynep Madak-Erdogan, associate professor of nutrition.

“Many research labs and groups of scientists are working very hard on tackling cancer from many angles. Finding new therapeutic strategies for patients and creating awareness of existing therapies that do not work effectively can improve disease outcomes and save patients’ lives. Support for cancer research ensures that we, as researchers, keep traction as we achieve these scientific goals,” Santaliz Casiano said.

Zeynep Madak Erdogan

Image of Zeynep Madak-Erdogan.

In the lab, she is working on understanding breast cancer aggressiveness using novel 3D metastatic models. Santaliz-Casiano is studying the tissue microenvironment and the biological mechanisms working within it that might impact cancer growth in Black women – who have a 40% higher breast cancer mortality rate than white women.

“The molecules Ashlie identified activated oncogenic pathways that are critical for breast cancer survival and response to endocrine agents. We are now testing drug combinations that prevent activity of these pathways. Her work provided us with novel 3D models and potential future therapies that will hopefully improve breast cancer outcomes for African American women,” Madak-Erdogan said.

Kristine Neuhoff Twyman (LAS ’89) lost her battle with breast cancer and as a way to honor her memory, her husband Scott established a scholarship supporting students conducting research that will impact the lives of other individuals diagnosed with breast cancer.





– Written by Jordan Goebig, Communications Manager

The Tissue Microenvironment (TiME) Training Program is university-wide training program for graduate students, supported by a T32 grant from the National Institutes of Health. Find out more about the TiME Training Program.