Leadership

Leadership Team

Thomas Kurtz, MBA

Thomas Kurtz, MBA

President / CEO 814-361-6988

Tom Kurtz is the current President and CEO of the CSS Institute of Molecular Medicine at Windber. Mr. Kurtz earned a MBA in Medical Practice Management and is one of approximately 600 people in the country with this degree. He is also a certified member in the American College of Medical Practice Executives (ACMPE).  In addition to his current position at CSSIMMW, Mr. Kurtz is also the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the American Red Cross Keystone Chapter and is also a member of numerous other boards such as JARI, Pitt-Johnstown Alumni Association and the Johnstown YMCA.

Mr. Kurtz’s previously held Vice President level positions at Carlisle Hospital, Lee Hospital and Memorial Medical Center and also served as the Director of Practice Management at UPMC. Prior to accepting the position at CSSIMMW he served as a consultant for places such as Tyrone Hospital, Windber Medical Center and Washington and Jefferson College. In addition, Mr. Kurtz has developed and taught classes in Healthcare Sociology at Penn Highlands Community College and Mount Aloysius College.

Hai Hu, PhD

Hai Hu, PhD

CSO 814-361-6903

Dr. Hai Hu is the CSO.  He obtained his PhD in Biophysics from the State University of New York at Buffalo, and completed post-doctoral training in Molecular and Cellular Cardiology at the Johns Hopkins University.  At CSSIMMW, Dr. Hu oversees activities led by all other directors. He has led the development and deployment of a biomedical informatics infrastructure to support patient enrollment, the biobank,  and molecular studies.  His research focuses on breast cancer risk factors, cancer development mechanisms, and cancer molecular stratifications by taking an integrative approach using data from multiple clinical, genomic, and proteomic platforms.  Dr. Hu is a Council Member of the John P. Murtha Cancer Center located at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center/Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences. He collaborates with scientists from many other institutions including the National Cancer Institute, University of North Carolina, and Broad Institute, etc. He is a member of several major cancer research consortium’s including The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) Research Network, TCGA PanCanAtlas Network, and the Applied Proteogenomic OrganizationaL Learning and Outcomes (APOLLOs), etc., serving as study PI and leading Working Groups and Task Forces.  Dr. Hu has published over 70 peer-reviewed papers in Cell, Nature, JAMA Oncology, J of Biomedical Informatics, and Proteomics, etc.  He also has published five book chapters and co-edited two books. He has presented at numerous scientific and business conferences, delivering keynote speeches and serving as bioinformatics program chair or session chair in several of them.

Stella Somiari, PhD

Stella Somiari, PhD

Senior Director Biobank 814-361-6917

Dr. Stella Somiari is Senior Director and leader of the CAP accredited biobank. She is a pioneer staff member of the research institute where she conducts cancer and biospecimen research using genomics and proteomics technologies.  In 2000, she led the conceptualization, design and development of the management tools and standard operating procedures for establishment of the breast tissue repository of the Department of Defense (DoD) funded Clinical Breast Care Project (CBCP) of MCCRP USUHS. In 2002, Dr. Somiari developed a second protocol to expand the biobank’s collection to include a wider variety of human biological specimens from hospitals, and the organ recovery organization, Center for Organ Recovery and Education (CORE).  Under the leadership of Dr. Somiari, the biobank contributed breast tissue for the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) Cancer Genome Atlas Project (TCGA) and in 2012, based on the biobank’s outstanding quality of work for the CBCP, the DoD expanded the task of the biobank to include long term storage for the military’s research biospecimens. This operation which is now with the Murtha Cancer Center at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC), Bethesda, MD has been expanded from the single collection at WRNMMC to include more than 7 Military Treatment Facilities (MTF) across the United States. Dr Somiari is an active member of the International Society of Biological and Environmental Repositories (ISBER), where she has served on numerous committees, including ISBER’s scientific and publication committees. As an active member of the ISBER Biospecimen Science Working Group, she has contributed to peer reviewed publications of this group, which include 4 editions of the ISBER Best Practices Guidelines. She also was Associate Editor of the 2nd and 3rd Editions of the ISBER Best Practices Guidelines. To standardize and improve the work of the biobank, Dr. Somiari has incorporated into the biobank’s activities, biospecimen science research with the goal of generating evidence-based data that will support the identification of biomarkers for specimen quality control, and the development of non-destructive methods for tissue quality assessment. Dr Somiari has published widely in many subject areas including, breast cancer, autoantibodies, genomics, proteomics and biospecimen quality assessment.

Leonid Kvecher, MS

Leonid Kvecher, MS

Director of Biomedical Informatics Infrastructure 814-361-6934

Mr. Kvecher is the Director of the Biomedical Informatics Infrastructure at CSS Institute of Molecular Medicine at Windber (CSSIMMW). He joined the institute in 2004 as a Biomedical Informatics Specialist. In the beginning of his career at CSSIMMW he was focused on building the Data Warehouse for Translational Research (DW4TR) where patients’ clinicopathological data are integrated with sample information and experimental results for further analysis. As part of the group, he was responsible for the quality of the data and provided data to the scientists for further analysis. Based on the data, multiple discoveries have been achieved and published. During his career at CSSIMMW, he was involved in developing additional functionalities to DW4TR to handle temporal information, experimental results, and additional types of cancer. He also led the development of the Data Repository system for Translational Research – the custom informatics system for collecting clinicopathological, sample, and experimental results data for 2500 participants against 250 biomarkers. Based on the organization’s needs, he was assigned to lead development of the data tracking system for the Clinical Breast Care Project (DTS-CBCP). Building on the success of DTS-CBCP, he was tasked to build a data tracking system for the John P. Murtha Cancer Center biobank (DTS-MCC).  With the recent involvement of our institute in the APOLLO project, his group was chosen to spear-head the APOLLO Informatics Infrastructure Task Force (IITF) which will include the development of data tracking and data repository systems for the project (DTS-APOLLO and DW4TR-APOLLO).

Kelli Ruiz, MBA

Kelli Ruiz, MBA

Director of Research Operations 814-361-6981

Mrs. Ruiz is the Director of Research Operations at CSS Institute of Molecular Medicine at Windber (CSSIMMW). She joined the institute in 2017 as a Program Manager where she was focused on implementing and managing changes to ensure project goals are achieved.  Her responsibilities included planning and monitoring the progress to make sure that milestones are being met across the various projects, managing the program budgets, accessing the risks, and managing the resources. She was promoted to Director of Research Operations in 2018 where she continues her work as Program Manager and has taken on the duties of directing the operations to include targeting specific areas within the organization to improve operational efficiency.  She is also responsible for overseeing budgets, identifying and targeting areas where the organization can improve, researching and implementing new directives and developing guidelines for employee evaluations, recruitment and promotion.

Mrs. Ruiz graduated with her Bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Mount Aloysius.  She then went on to earn her MBA where she focused on project management.

Staff Scientists

Rachel Ellsworth, PhD

Director of Translational Breast Research (HJF) 814-361-6926

Rachel Ellsworth received her PhD in biomedical sciences from the University of Texas, Health Science Center, Houston.  Her postdoctoral training took place at the NIH where she worked on the human genome project.  In 2001, Dr. Ellsworth began working for the Clinical Breast Care Project, becoming Director of Translational Breast Research in 2007.  Much of her early work focused on the identification of chromosomal regions critical to the development, progression and metastasis of primary breast tumors.  Dr. Ellsworth has had external research grants from Komen for the Cure and Department of Defense to identify genetic modifiers in families with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, identify genetic signatures that can discriminate aggressive from non-aggressive DCIS and improve understanding of the role adipose plays in tumorigenesis.  Current projects in her group include evaluating epidemiological differences and using gene expression analysis to identify factors associated with aggressive breast cancer in African American women, identifying genetic and protein biomarkers associated with breast cancer metastasis, and identifying DNA alterations in the tumor microenvironment and characterizing the role of adipose in tumorigenesis.

Lori Sturtz, PhD

Scientist 814-361-6953

Dr. Lori Sturtz received her Ph.D. in Environmental Health Sciences/Toxicological Sciences from Johns Hopkins University. She first came to CSS Institute of Molecular Medicine at Windber as a postdoctoral fellow and is now a Staff Scientist in the Genomics department. She has been instrumental in developing a number of protocols for obtaining high-quality RNA and protein from tissue specimens for downstream analyses such as gene expression microarray. Her research interests include outcome disparities between African American and Caucasian women with breast cancer as well as identifying molecular determinants of therapeutic response. In addition, Dr. Sturtz is actively involved in the CSSIMMW educational programs with the local high schools and elementary schools as a curriculum developer and instructor.

Praveen K. Raj Kumar, PhD

Bioinformatics Scientist 814-361-6967

Dr. Praveen K. Raj Kumar received his PhD from Miami University (Oxford, OH, USA) in Bioinformatics (Department of Biology).  He completed his postdoctoral fellowship at the School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA).  He relocated to the CSS Institute of Molecular Medicine at Windber in 2016.  His research expertise is in the transcriptomics, genomics and proteomics including analysis of high throughput sequencing, alternative splicing & polyadenylation analysis, gene annotation and the use of applied machine learning to predict cis-regulatory sequences. His current research focus is to understand the underlying reason for molecular heterogeneity within breast cancer subtypes leveraging Proteogenomics data.

Vijay Eedunuri, PhD

814-361-6905

Vijay Eedunuri received his PhD in Microbiology from Osmania University, India. He did seven years of postdoctoral training in Basic and translational cancer research in Dr. Mitsiades and Dr. Manjeet K Rao’s labs at Baylor College of Medicine and University of Texas health Science Center at San Antonio. Dr Eedunuri’s contributions includes the understanding the SPOP mutations in metastatic prostate cancer and m6A mRNA methylation role in breast cancer development and progression. He joined CSSIMMW as a Scientist where his research focuses on biomarker identification to assess the tissue quality and developing novel methods for tissue preservation.