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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Student Q&A: Tim Sita, Medical Scientist Training Program

Tim Sita

Tim Sita, a sixth-year MD/PhD student in the Northwestern University Medical Scientist Training Program, studies of the application of nanomaterials to cancer therapy in the laboratories of Alexander Stegh, PhD, assistant professor of Neurology, and Chad Mirkin, PhD, George B. Rathmann professor of Chemistry and professor of Medicine.

Sita earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical and biological engineering and molecular biology from the University of Wisconsin Madison. Since the age of six, Sita knew he wanted to research and develop therapeutics for cancer. This passion led him to pursue a PhD in research training to achieve his goals.

Where is your hometown?
My hometown is Kildeer, Illinois, which is about an hour northwest of downtown Chicago.

What are your research interests?
My research interest is in the application of nanomaterials to cancer therapy. Specifically, I am interested in improving treatment of glioblastoma multiforme (GBM, brain tumors) with nanotherapeutics designed to silence critical GBM oncogenes driving proliferation and chemotherapeutic resistance.

What exciting projects are you working on?
I am currently developing spherical nucleic acids (SNAs) for the treatment of GBM. These novel constructs consist of 13-nanometer gold nanoparticles that are coated with small interfering RNA (siRNA) molecules capable of performing gene knockdown. These nanoparticles have been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier and preferentially accumulate in brain tumors due to their small size. I have also generated mouse models that allow for non-invasive imaging of protein expression in GBM. Specifically, I have engineered them to allow for tracking of a chemoresistance gene that my SNAs are targeting and attempting to silence. When these mice are treated with SNAs, I am able to visualize silencing of the chemoresistance gene in their brain tumors in real-time, indicating the mouse is ready for treatment with chemotherapy.

What attracted you to the MD/PhD program?
I have always wanted to design cancer therapeutics, dating back to age six when I tried to make a cure out of toothpaste, Rice Krispies and olive oil. However, when I had the opportunity to volunteer at a hospital in college, I discovered that I wanted to care for cancer patients in addition to research novel therapeutics.

The MD/PhD program trains you for both of those careers, so it was a perfect fit for me. Once I decided to pursue an MD/PhD program, Northwestern became the clear front-runner for me due to its world-class reputation for excellence in nanotechnology and cancer research and beautiful downtown Chicago location.

What has been your best experience at Feinberg?
I would have to say meeting my wife in the first week of medical school. We both had last names that began with the letter ‘S’ and were often paired together in small group activities. Our lives were entirely changed by alphabetization, as we got married three years later and now have two kids!

How would you describe the faculty at Feinberg?
In addition to being brilliant, the faculty members are truly dedicated to student development and passionate about teaching. I have had the unique opportunity to see this on both the Chicago and Evanston campuses, as I have taken courses on both campuses and I am training under outstanding mentors at both locations.

There are always stimulating discussions about next research steps and about what is currently known in the literature. I constantly feel challenged to learn more and to expand our knowledge base through experiments. 

What do you do in your free time?
I enjoy spending time with my family, biking, kayaking, brewing beer, grilling and exploring all of the restaurants Chicago has to offer.

What are your plans for after graduation?
Following graduation, I hope to enroll in a residency program in radiation oncology. In this exciting field, I will be able to design treatment plans for cancer patients while continuing to pursue my research interest in applying nanomaterials to cancer therapy.