Dr. Shana McCormack to receive Rare Genetic Disorders research grant at 2019 Young Investigator Draft presented by CSL Behring


The Young Investigator Draft is the result of Uplifting Athletes’ ongoing commitment to cultivate resources that accelerate scientific advancements for rare disease treatments and potential cures while facilitating the next generation of rare disease researchers.

These Young Investigators will pursue rare disease research in one of five different areas: rare cancers, rare autoimmune and immunological disorders, rare blood disorders, rare genetic disorders and rare muscular and neurological disorders.

To learn more about the Young Investigator Draft and to purchase tickets click here.

Researcher: Dr. Shana McCormack

Category: Rare Genetics Disorders

Education: Dr. McCormack started her education at Harvard where she studied biochemistry. She obtained her MD from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, did her internship and residency in pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Dr. McCormack did her fellowship in pediatric endocrinology at Children’s Hospital Boston completed her education with a Master of Science in Translational Research (MTR) from the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. Currently, Dr. McCormack is an attending physician and Scientific Director of the Neuroendocrine Center in the Division of Endocrinology and Diabetes at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). She also serves as a member of the clinical research team for Mitochondrial Medicine at CHOP.

Research: As a physician-scientist, Dr. McCormack investigates the neuroendocrine systems that regulate energy balance in humans. Her translational research program has two main areas of focus. First, she studies individuals with metabolic disorders with characterized by risk for diabetes mellitus, including primary mitochondrial diseases, Friedreich’s ataxia, and lipodystrophy. Second, she focuses on brain disorders associated with excess weight gain, including brain-tumor related hypothalamic obesity syndrome and pseudotumor cerebri syndrome/idiopathic intracranial hypertension.

In Their Words: “I have always enjoyed athletics, science and helping people. My mom is a nurse and my dad is an engineer. So it was fairly well laid out for me. I was an athlete in college and played sports in college. So exercise was always important to me. When you think about exercise and assess its value, exercise is very compelling the impact it can have. And now I’m working on projects that bring me back to that. There’s a lot of collaboration and we are finding a lot of cross-pollination and it’s very exciting because we are all looking for ways to help people. I feel very grateful to be sitting at this nexus of opportunity.” – Dr. Shana McCormack

Dr. Shana McCormack has a very busy life with a husband who is a surgeon-scientist, two kids under the age of 10 and her own diverse career as a physician-scientist.

A lot of time is dedicated to being Dr. McCormack and mom. The family loves to be outdoors and hike together. But anybody who’s ever been a parent to a 9 and 7-year-old can attest to what that crazy day-to-day schedule looks like.

Just talking to Dr. McCormack, though, you can tell she’s very passionate and inspired by the work she does. The scientific side she called “fascinating” but in the end she said the key is a strong desire to help people.

Her work recently has taken her down a path where exercise is part of a scientific equation and it has brought along a little nostalgia to her days at Harvard as a student-athlete.

Dr. McCormack held down position No. 7 on the Harvard 1997 Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championship winning women’s light rowing crew. And as she told the story of that team and winning it all, she noted most of her fellow crew members on that team are either physicians or scientists or have sports and athletics involved in what they do professionally.

“We all are busy and I certainly have enough to keep me busy on any given day,” Dr. McCormack said. “I love my kids and they are so much fun. I love they are both interested in science. But as I talk about rowing and winning a national championship I know it’s something I want to get back into. So this summer I’m going to get back into rowing.”

Dr. Eugene Hwang to receive Rare Cancers research grant at 2019 Young Investigator Draft presented by CSL Behring


The Young Investigator Draft is the result of Uplifting Athletes’ ongoing commitment to cultivate resources that accelerate scientific advancements for rare disease treatments and potential cures while facilitating the next generation of rare disease researchers.

These Young Investigators will pursue rare disease research in one of five different areas: rare cancers, rare autoimmune and immunological disorders, rare blood disorders, rare genetic disorders and rare muscular and neurological disorders.

To learn more about the Young Investigator Draft and to purchase tickets click here.

Researcher: Dr. Eugene Hwang

Category: Rare Cancers

Education: Dr. Hwang started his education with an undergraduate degree in cell and molecular biology from Rice University. He went to medical school at Duke University where he obtained his MD. Dr. Hwang did his residency in pediatrics at Brown University’s Hasbro Children’s Hospital, returned to Duke University for his fellowship in pediatric hematology-oncology and was the Chief Fellow his final year. Dr. Hwang’s final post-graduate training was also at Duke University in pediatric neuro-oncology. He is currently a pediatric neuro-oncologist at the Children’s National Medical Center and cares for children with brain tumors.

Research: In Dr. Wang’s words this is his focus when it comes to research “I’m a clinical/researcher and I’m thinking and designing on the translational side for that make sense to me and what the FDA and governing bodies will allow. We open research to single hospitals or groups of hospitals. The hospital I’m at now has become a leader for pediatric brain cancer. Through that vain we are able to propose and run through the same consortium. There’s always a lot of rationale to choose the drugs we are going to test. Pediatric brain cancer funding is limited, so these are all clinical trails. There are a lot of collaborations, but in many ways it what we are trying to accomplish to find what helps to make a difference with children. I need to know cutting edge to know what is going on with science and with the treatment of patients. Sometimes it’s hard to get researchers and doctors together to make it meaningful to everyone. I can dialogue with both sides of the equation and it’s proven helpful.”

During his third year of medical school, Dr. Hwang was drawn to children and he knew his future would include pediatric medicine. He had discovered his passion and purpose.

Science and medicine wasn’t necessarily his first love. For Dr. Hwang, who grew up in Texas and is the father of two daughters, it was a process.

His first love was literature and for the first half of college he was fairly certain he was going to be a writer. And even today he says that would have been a fulfilling career.

Science was always something that came easy for Dr. Hwang growing up, but it was a process for him to let go of his first love – literature and writing – and commit to a career path of making a difference in the lives of others.

“There’s something special about when a child is sick as compared to an adult. There’s something moving about a family coming around a sick child. The intense emotional energy around a kid who is sick moves me,” said Dr. Hwang, who added he chose to focus on the brain because it remains such a mystery and has always been the most intriguing. “I love that fight that mobilizes immediately when it’s your child or a loved ones child. It was just an easy step to brain cancer for me because I was already drawn to the brain. The survival for pediatric brain cancer is still not great, so the way I see it there are the biggest gains to be made going forward.”

A big fan of the outdoors, including being “great at fly fishing”, Dr. Hwang is also a huge fan of Duke University basketball. Did he paint himself in blue and white and attend Blue Devils games as a Cameron Crazy during his five years at Duke? Of course was his answer.

Dr. Hwang also enjoys photography old-school style, including the magic that comes when working in a darkroom.

But making a difference by helping children with brain tumors is what has made Dr. Hwang one of the very best in his field.

In an article published online by connectionasco.org last November entitled “I Live to Conquer Cancer,” Dr. Hwang laid out what motivates him today as a clinician/researcher.

“I have attended end-of-treatment parties where I finally see the true breadth of the threads that tie all of us together; I have spoken at standing room-only funerals where sorrow and remembrance permeate because of the loss of a child, decades too early,” he wrote. And, at every step of the way, I am continually reminded of why I cannot stop working in this field.

“I am honored and grateful that I have the chance to meet these tiny (and not-so-tiny) warriors, that each family pulls me into the inner sanctum of their loved ones, and that in some small way, I can provide hope for every child.”

Dr. Alberto Japp to receive Rare Autoimmune and Immunological Disorders research grant at 2019 Young Investigator Draft presented by CSL Behring


The Young Investigator Draft is the result of Uplifting Athletes’ ongoing commitment to cultivate resources that accelerate scientific advancements for rare disease treatments and potential cures while facilitating the next generation of rare disease researchers.

These Young Investigators will pursue rare disease research in one of five different areas: rare cancers, rare autoimmune and immunological disorders, rare blood disorders, rare genetic disorders and rare muscular and neurological disorders.

To learn more about the Young Investigator Draft and to purchase tickets click here.

Researcher: Dr. Alberto Japp

Category: Rare Autoimmune and Immunological Disorders

Education: Dr. Japp is a native of Brazil and went to Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) for his undergraduate work and obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Pharmacy. He then moved to Berlin, Germany and received his Master’s degree in Molecular Medicine from Charite. Dr. Japp stayed in Berlin and attended Humboldt University of Berlin where he obtained his Doctor of Philosophy – PhD, Biology, Immunology. His currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania as a postdoctoral researcher in immunology.

Research: According to Dr. Japp his research is focused on autoimmune disorders and how the body fights infections and this research is also powerful against cancer. My work here is focused on the de-regulation, how the immune system harms the body in different diseases including Castleman’s Disease and Type 1 diabetes. By studying the underlying mechanisms of the immune system we can learn more about the way to treat and cure these diseases. My work here is focused on human diseases exclusively. Research is also done on animals, but the work I do exclusively human research.

In Their Words: ““Doing research in different countries has been an amazing experience. Each country has a different style. In Germany, I have acquired huge technical skills and learned to be organized. In the U.S., I have learned to communicate with other researchers and apply those skills in highly collaborative projects. The excitement around research here in the U.S. motivates me to be more daring and try new and exciting things.” – Dr. Alberto Japp

Dr. Alberto Japp grew up in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil as the middle child with a brother and sister. He was always fascinated by science growing up – particularly biology and chemistry – and that led him to make a bold decision to leave his home country and family to learn more about how the body works.

He spent nearly a decade in Germany and he loved living in Berlin and furthering his education and abilities as a scientist but he was drawn to expanding his base of knowledge as a research scientist.

“I really enjoyed Berlin and was very happy there, but I had an opportunity to learn more and having another opportunity in science here in the U.S. fascinated me,” Dr. Japp said. “I really wanted to continue doing research and the U.S. is one of the biggest biomedical research centers in the world. My mentor in Germany knew the person who would be my mentor here in the U.S. and both thought it would be perfect because of my interest in immunology research.”

Dr. Japp’s wife Seda came to the United States six months early to get them set up. But For nearly two years Dr. Japp has been working in a collaborative and innovative setting doing cutting edge research.

“The environment at Penn is amazing. It has so many research groups using a lot of techniques and there’s a lot of interaction and collaboration with the groups here,” Dr. Japp said. “When I got here I met Dr. David Fajgenbaum and we started working together and it’s been amazing.

“Castleman’s Disease, being a rare disease, it’s hard to find samples to study. I hadn’t heard of the disease before this. But I learned about it and David has all the samples here at Penn for us to study. There’s so much interesting data to study and we’ve pursued it and are making some really interesting progress.”

Dr. Brian Sworder to receive Rare Blood Disorders research grant at 2019 Young Investigator Draft presented by CSL Behring


The Young Investigator Draft is the result of Uplifting Athletes’ ongoing commitment to cultivate resources that accelerate scientific advancements for rare disease treatments and potential cures while facilitating the next generation of rare disease researchers.

These Young Investigators will pursue rare disease research in one of five different areas: rare cancers, rare autoimmune and immunological disorders, rare blood disorders, rare genetic disorders and rare muscular and neurological disorders.

To learn more about the Young Investigator Draft and to purchase tickets click here.

Researcher: Dr. Brian Sworder

Category: Rare Blood Disorders

Education: Dr. Sworder received his undergraduate degree in biology from UCLA before receiving his MD/PhD in molecular medicine from the Boston University School of Medicine. He was an HHMI-NIH Research Scholar for 22 months at the Howard Hughes Medical Center and was an Internal Medicine Resident at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai for two years.

Research: At Stanford Dr. Sworder’s research is focused on lymphoma and the various types of lymphoma – specifically B-cell non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Every B-cell or non-Hodgkins lymphoma has a receptor and it’s the same on every cell and it’s the same on every person. Dr. Sworder’s research is aiming to hit targets using new technology to see if they can design a receptor for people who haven’t responded well to chemotherapy.

In Their Words: “The patients we work with are fine day and the next day they have this horrible diagnosis and they are scared and anxious. It’s a lot … and sometimes it’s really hard. But it’s also incredibly rewarding. It is always a privilege to have people trust you enough to share those fears and anxieties with you and to hopefully be able to help them. That draws me to still want to do clinical medicine – to make things better when possible because we can’t help everybody. When somebody struggles it frustrates me and drives me to try and figure out how can we do better. That’s why I want to do science and clinical medicine.” – Dr. Brian Sworder

Dr. Brian Sworder is currently a Hematology and Oncology Fellow at Stanford University School of Medicine. He grew up in Orange County, California and went to Foothill High School where he played volleyball and first became intensely interested in science.

He majored in biology at UCLA and still was unsure what his career path was going to look like. So he took a year off and contemplated whether he wanted to be a teacher or pursue medical school.

During his year off he worked in a clinical laboratory to get a little experience while he applied to medical school was where he became extremely interested in both the research and clinical side of medicine.

“I got into it first for patients and to use research to change things and make it better … but more for the patients,” Dr. Sworder said. “In my first year of medical school I did a research internship with a research scientist and got an internship at the NIH.  That’s what I realized what I wanted to do and understood that I wanted to research that impacts people and makes a difference in their care. In the middle of medical I actually did the research and got my PhD then went back to medical school.

“The synergy between clinical care and scientific research was a perfect opportunity for me in oncology. Today, I do more research than clinical work and it’s sort of flipped for me over time.”

Dr. Sworder was part of the team that recently treated 2019 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion finalist Ryan Beecher. The Stanford Cardinal linebacker was diagnosed with a rare form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma prior to Stanford’s 2017 bowl game. Beecher underwent his treatment protocol and was able to return to the field for the start of the 2018 season.

“Ryan is an incredible young man,” said Dr. Sworder, who recently was married to Catharine and is a huge fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Lakers. “Ryan was getting chemo and was asking me if he could still go to class. I was like ‘sure you can go but you don’t have to go.’ I wouldn’t have been able to get out of my bed. As soon as we were done, he went right back to training. He was an amazing patient.”

Dr. Elizabeth Harrington to receive Rare Muscular and Neurological Disorders grant at 2019 Young Investigator Draft presented by CSL Behring


The Young Investigator Draft is the result of Uplifting Athletes’ ongoing commitment to cultivate resources that accelerate scientific advancements for rare disease treatments and potential cures while facilitating the next generation of rare disease researchers.

These Young Investigators will pursue rare disease research in one of five different areas: rare cancers, rare autoimmune and immunological disorders, rare blood disorders, rare genetic disorders and rare muscular and neurological disorders.

To learn more about the Young Investigator Draft and to purchase tickets click here

Researcher: Dr. Elizabeth Harrington

Category: Rare Muscular and Neurological Disorders

Education: Dr. Harrington attended the University of Redlands, where she spent four years as a student-athlete on the varsity women’s soccer team and graduated with a degree in Biology and Communicative Disorders. Interested in the field of medicine, she accepted an Intramural Research Training Award at the National Institutes of Health in Washington D.C., where she worked in a clinical genetics research laboratory focused on rare inborn errors of metabolism. Ellie received her master’s degree in Human Genetics and Genetic Counseling at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Research: Dr. Harrington’s clinical research efforts have led to the launch the “ALS Families Project”, which helps individuals with a family history of ALS determine their risk of developing the disease, and provides education and counseling to help manage and mitigate risk.  The ALS Families Project focuses on studying clinical data and biospecimen samples from those unaffected individuals who carry an ALS gene mutation, to better understand the earliest signs of symptoms of disease and ultimately, help in the development of experimental treatments to prevent the onset of disease in specific familial forms of ALS. 

In Their Words: “Most medical practitioners in my field … there is a huge amount of sadness with the people we come across. And that’s hard, but you can’t focus on that. You have to think about the overall goal of trying to stop this from happening. What undercuts the sadness is seeing a better future. It’s really holding onto the idea that the work today can make for a better future.” – Dr. Elizabeth Harrington

Ellie Harrington is the genetic counselor at the Eleanor and Lou Gehrig ALS Center at Columbia University Medical Center in New York. She primarily provides genetic counseling for individuals affected with ALS to help them and their families understand the potential genetic contribution to disease, make decisions around genetic testing, and discuss the medical and psychological implications of genetic results.

Dr. Harrington was always interested in science growing up, and as an athlete who played a wide variety of sports she always figured going to medical school and becoming a doctor involved with athletics seemed like the natural choice.

It was her time at the NIH in Washington DC that ultimately gave Ellie the clarity in terms of a passion for her career choice.

Working in the lab under a clinical and research genetics counselor gave her the insight of being able to help others while still fulfilling her desire to be involved in science and research.

“I knew for a while I knew I wanted to be in the medical field, not sure what it was. When I went to NIH and research I was trying to learn if medical school was going to be for me,” Dr. Harrington said. “As a clinical researcher I was working in a lab that was studying a rare metabolic neurological disease and worked closely under a clinical and research genetic counselor.

“It was my experience with those families that made me realize I wanted to work more with patients and families. That patient interaction and psychology, coupled with my scientific background of medicine focused in genetics, I knew being a genetics counselor was perfect for me.”

Eleven NFL prospects join 2019 Reps For Rare Diseases campaign for NFL Combine


For the fifth consecutive year, Uplifting Athletes is empowering NFL prospects with the opportunity to use the NFL Combine as a platform to give back by raising funds and awareness in support of the Rare Disease Community.

The Reps For Rare Diseases Campaign is one of the first opportunities for these athletes to create an impact using their platform as professional athletes. Uplifting Athletes is excited to work with these outstanding individuals to help them give back during this very pivotal time of their lives.

This year Uplifting Athletes currently has 10 players who chose to participate in Reps For Rare Diseases 2019 at the NFL Combine including: Trace McSorley and Ryan Bates from Penn State, Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, and Tre Lamar from Clemson and Garrett Bradbury, Kelvin Harmon and Jakobi Meyers from NC State, Chris Slayton from Syracuse and Drue Tranquill from Notre Dame.

Lehigh University running back Dom Bragalone was invited to the 2nd annual NFL Regional Combine in Kansas City March 9. The NFL Regional Combine is an invite-only event for approximately 100 draft-eligible prospects who were not invited to the NFL Combine.

“We would like to thank all the athletes participating in Reps For Rare Diseases and wish all of our participants the best of luck in the pursuit of their professional careers,” Uplifting Athletes Director of Sports Impact and NFL veteran Brett Brackett said. “We believe this is a special group that stands out for the right reasons amongst their peers. Any NFL team would be lucky to have one of these men representing their organization.”

Fans and supporters can become teammates of any one of our NFL Combine participants this year and help Uplifting Athletes tackle rare diseases by simply making a pledge for every bench press repetition or vertical jump per inch the player achieves.

Visit the Uplifting Athletes Reps For Rare Diseases 2019 team landing page, choose your favorite player and make your pledge today.

The proceeds from Reps For Rare Diseases support the mission of Uplifting Athletes and its charitable programs: Rare Disease Awareness, Rare Disease Research, Uplifting Experiences and Uplifting Leaders.

The first Reps For Rare Diseases campaign was run by former Penn State and current Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James.

Since James launched this program in 2015 other current NFL veterans such as Justin Watson (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Jason Cabinda (Oakland Raiders), Justin Jackson (San Diego Chargers), Mike McGlinchey (San Francisco 49ers), Mike Gesicki (Miami Dolphins), Josh Adams (Philadelphia Eagles), Malik Turner (Seattle Seahawks), Grant Haley (New York Giants), Anthony Zettel (Cleveland Browns), Andrew Billings (Cincinnati Bengals), Garrett Sickels (Los Angeles Rams), and Chad Kanoff (Arizona Cardinals) have used Reps For Rare Diseases as a platform to support the Rare Disease Community.

“Uplifting Athletes prides itself in helping athletes realize their potential to make a positive impact on the Rare Disease Community. Our Reps for Rare Diseases campaign is another unique example of this,” Brackett said.

CBS 3’s Stephanie Stahl to serve as emcee next month for 2019 Young Investigator Draft presented by CSL Behring


Uplifting Athletes will host its 2nd Annual Young Investigator Draft presented by CSL Behring on Saturday, March 9th at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.

The Young Investigator Draft is the result of Uplifting Athletes’ ongoing commitment to cultivate resources that accelerate scientific advancements for rare disease treatments and potential cures while facilitating the next generation of rare disease researchers.

Uplifting Athletes is pleased and excited to announce that CBS 3’s Emmy Award winning health reporter Stephanie Stahl will be the emcee for the 2019 Young Investigator Draft.

“We are thankful to have the support of CBS 3 and honored to have an award winning reporter like Stephanie emcee our Young Investigator Draft,” Uplifting Athletes Executive Director Rob Long said. “Her pedigree and professionalism will no doubt elevate the program to new heights for 2019.”

Purchase Tickets to 2019 Young Investigator Draft

As one of the television industry’s most respected medical reporters, Stahl has been recognized by community and health organizations alike for her hard-hitting yet compassionate approach to her beat, an approach that has changed lives and influenced medical practices.    

Stahl’s reporting has earned her high honors in both the television industry and medical field.  In addition to earning a variety of Emmy awards, she’s a member of the Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame.   Stahl received the prestigious Diamond Award from Temple University Hospital’s Auxiliary for her “dedication to excellence, her professional and personal integrity, and her deep sense of compassion for others.”  The Pennsylvania Public Health Association honored her with its 2000 Media Award; the local chapter of the American Liver Foundation named Stahl its Media Professional of the Year and the Cardiovascular Institute presented her with its Leadership Award for “positively impacting the health of the Delaware Valley.”

Stahl is also involved with community and station efforts includingthe Susan G. Komen Philadelphia Race for the Cure, Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and Ronald McDonald House Charities.  She serves on the board of the Children’s Crisis Treatment Center and is a mentor with Women of Tomorrow at Carver High School.

Stahl and her husband, Jim, reside in Montgomery County outside of Philadelphia. They have a son, Matthew, who works in professional sports management.

Similar to the NFL Draft where teams select the top young prospects they feel can make the most impact on their future, at the Young Investigator Draft, Uplifting Athletes will reveal our 2019 draft class in five different rare disease categories to help impact their futures.

The five Young Investigator categories are: rare cancers, rare autoimmune and immunological disorders, rare blood disorders, rare genetic disorders and rare muscular and neurological disorders.

Young Investigator Draft grants are intended to inspire collaborative and translational research that will benefit the entire Rare Disease Community. The Young Investigator Draft stage will provide a platform for these scientists to educate and inspire the audience by sharing their research along with its impact on the Rare Disease Community.