Awardees & Updates – 2020

2020 Gridley McKim-Smith Women’s Health Fellowship Awards

Laavanya Sankaranarayanan, is pursuing a PhD in genetics and genomics at Duke University; she received an MB in biotechnology from the University of Pennsylvania.

Area of study: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), identifying the role of genetic regulatory variation in PCOS to identify the genetic causes of PCOS that could be therapeutically targeted.

Summary: Laavanya was born and raised in India; as a woman in STEM she has overcome significant obstacles to achieve an education in science and she plans to pursue a career in academic medicine focused on genetics and reproductive health issues. She is also enrolled in Duke University’s college teaching program and is described by her advisor as an outstanding communicator and detailed researcher, committed to research, teaching, mentorship and community leadership.

Justin Silpe, PhD is currently pursuing his post-doc in chemistry at Harvard University. He received a PhD and MA in molecular biology from Princeton and an MS in macromolecular science and engineering concurrent undergraduate/graduate study program from the University of Michigan.

Area of study: Vaginal microbiome and how to address phages, bacteria and prevent pre-term birth and vaginosis.

Summary: Justin is interested in creating more diversity and better communication in science fields and in studying pathways of disease, bacteria and microbiome in developing treatment targets and improved drug design. Justin’s advisor described him as “a spectacular student..the top graduate student who has ever come through my lab” who has already made “groundbreaking discoveries” and is “all we can hope for in our students – a brilliant intellect, a breathtaking experimentalist, a person of impeccable character, and a totally decent and kind human being…a gem.”

Bryan James is a PhD candidate in cardiovascular disease materials science and engineering at the University of Florida. He received a B.A.Sc from the University of Toronto in materials engineering.

Area of study: Sex specific vascular cell behavior in order to tailor biomaterial properties best suited for each sex.

Summary: Bryan is interested in elucidating sex disparities in cardiovascular disease and how these differences relate to the development of biomaterials for use in women and men. He is an NIH predoc fellow and his career goals are to pursue academic medicine and develop better medical and industrial materials that consider sex differences and precision medicine. Bryan’s advisor wrote that “he has changed the direction of my research group” and is an “outstanding young investigator [with a] strong work ethic, drive, deep curiosity and mature scientific insight.”

Allie Greene is a PhD candidate in neuroscience at the University of Cincinnati. She received a BS from Virginia Tech in biological sciences.

Area of study: Sex specific role of DEK (estrogen receptor) in age-related dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Summary: Allie’s research is on DEK as an important molecular target for women with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease for the purpose of identifying a potential therapeutic target. Allie is an NIH predoc training fellow and is interested in pursuing science policy and mental health advocacy in her future career. Allie’s mentor describes her as a “remarkable stand-out student” and an “exceptional young scientist [in the] 1% of graduate students.”

2020 Abraham Schlussel Women’s Health Fellowship Award

Pratik Bhojnagarwala is a PhD candidate in cancer biology at the University of Sciences conducting research at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, PA. He received a MS in biotechnology from the University of Pennsylvania.

Area of study: Ovarian cancer, studying DNA encoded tumor attacking bridges targeting follicle stimulating hormone receptor (FSHR) related to ovarian cancer and treatment targets.

Summary: Pratik is from India and has family experience with cancer and the difficulties and insufficiencies of cancer treatments. His hopes to develop cancer immunotherapies to improve survival rates and provide treatments with less harmful side effects. Pratik worked as a lab technician to learn more about immunology before going to graduate school. His research at the Wistar Institute is on ovarian cancer. Pratik’s supervisor describes him as an “exceptionally talented PhD student [with an] outstanding work ethic…who will become a true young leader in science.”