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When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.

Alexander Graham Bell

Student Biographies


Class of 2009

Track 1 MD/PhD


Aaron Alexander-Bloch

NIH-Cambridge Scholar

Degrees: Harvard University, B.A. Philosophy, certificate in Mind/Brain/Behavior;   Cambridge University, M.Phil. Computational Biology

Research Interests: Developmental neuropsychiatric disease, Brain imaging

Student Profile photo Aaron

Aaron’s interest is the study of neurological and psychiatric disease with brain imaging techniques.  As an NIH-Cambridge Scholar, he will use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to visualize the connections between brain regions and how they change during normal development, childhood-onset schizophrenia, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.  The medicine portion of his MD/PhD program is at UCLA, where he works on the MRI of language function in brain tumor patients before surgery.

As a medical student, Aaron was also the president of the neurology interest group and co-founded a charity to support free health clinics run by medical students in California, with a grant from the American Medical Association. Before starting medical school, he completed a Masters (with distinction) in computational biology at the University of Cambridge, with an award through Cancer Research United Kingdom. Aaron studied philosophy as an undergraduate at Harvard. His senior honors thesis discussed notions of the unity or coherence of conscious experience, from the perspective of contemporary philosophy of mind. He also worked in a psychology lab, on the perception of goal-directed action in nonhuman primates, and in a biochemistry lab, on the redox properties of antipsychotic drugs. Honors in college included the John Harvard scholarship for academic achievement, the Samuel Abramson Memorial Fellowship, and the Herchel Smith Fellowship. Aaron enjoys sports, literature, and music, and he plays the classical piano.


Matthew Biancalana 

NIH-Cambridge Scholar

Degree: University of Chicago, B.S. Biochemistry (Honors) & B.A. Chemistry, 2008

Research Interests: signaling, structural biology, biophysics

Student profile photo Matt





Matt grew up in the western suburbs of Chicago and attended the University of Chicago for his undergraduate degree.  There he conducted an extensive project from his second through fourth years in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in the lab of Professor Shohei Koide.  Matt’s undergraduate research focused on the dye-binding properties of amyloid protein deposits, which are implicated in diseases such as Alzheimer’s.  He established a widely applicable rationale for dye-binding interactions that may offer structural insight towards the design of amyloid inhibitors and therapeutics.  His work into the first successful design of the water-soluble cross-beta motif has also significantly added to the repertoire of protein architectures.

Matt was a recipient of a Goldwater Scholarship, the NIH Undergraduate Training Program in Physical and Chemical Biology, and a Richter Research grant from the University of Chicago.  He was also invited to present his research at the Keystone Symposium Scholarship on Structural Biology.  Matt graduated from the University of Chicago with Honors in Biochemistry, and was awarded the Frances E. Knock Prize in Biological Chemistry as recognition for being the graduating senior with this highest GPA in the division.  He has written three first-author papers on this work, and supported several other projects within the lab and department.

Matt left his undergraduate degree eager for an international education, traveling abroad for his MPhil studies at the University of Cambridge under a scholarship from the Winston Churchill Foundation. Working with Professor Peter Leadlay in the Department of Biochemistry, Matt developed a mutagenesis and screening protocol for the optimization of enzymes which produce the polyketide class of natural products.  This work has important implications in the biosynthetic production of polyketides for use as antibiotics, immunosuppressants, and anti-cancer agents.  The Foundation further sponsored Matt to present his research at the Natural Products conference in Antigua.  The Churchill Scholarship allowed him to interact with a range of international scientists and inspired him to continue pursuing his PhD in the diverse intellectual environment at Cambridge.  He looks forward to applying the NIH’s renowned resources towards developing a strong multi-disciplinary collaboration.  Matt will work with Dr. Michael Lenardo (NIAID) at the NIH and Professor Alan Fersht (LMB) at Cambridge to investigate the molecular mechanisms by which cells exert precise control over gene expression. It was recently shown that NF-kB, one of the most investigated transcription factor complexes, has additional integral subunits that tune its affinity and specificity to transcriptional targets.  Matt will perform a detailed biophysical analysis of how these additional subunits affect the DNA-binding properties of the transcription factor core and drive the expression of a subset of NF-kB genes.  Matt is excited to investigate cell signaling and regulation using a variety of both biophysical and biochemical tools.

Matt is an avid photographer, traveler, and amateur gourmand.  He especially looks forward to future adventures which combine these three.


Jeffrey Cloutier

NIH-Marshall Scholar

Degree: BA, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Middlebury College

Research Interests: Germ cell development; Chromosome genetics; Epigenetics

Student profile photo Jeffrey

Jeffrey Mark Cloutier, a native of Berlin, New Hampshire, graduated summa cum laude from Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vermont, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry in 2009.  As a senior, Cloutier was awarded the Elbert C. Cole ‘15 Memorial Fund Prize for excellence in Biology and was admitted into Phi Beta Kappa.  His undergraduate research experience culminated in a thesis on a novel cell cycle mechanism involved in meiosis and infertility, and he received the highest departmental honors for his work.  At Middlebury, Cloutier worked with geneticist Dr. Jeremy Ward, PhD, to elucidate the role of two essential genes, Ccnb1ip1 and Cdk2, in meiosis and infertility.  He presented hisfindings as the only undergraduate at the Gordon Research Conference on Meiosis in 2008.  Prior to his research at Middlebury, Cloutier conducted research as an Amgen Scholar at the University of Washington, Seattle, under the supervision of Dr. Norman Dovichi, co-inventor of the DNA sequencing technology used in the Human Genome Project.   In this bioanalytical chemistry laboratory, Cloutier generated comprehensive  protein fingerprints of chemotherapy-resistant breast cancer cells and studied DNA repair in Deinococcus radiodurans.  Cloutier developed a curiosity for mammalian germ cell development and genetics at Middlebury College.  This led him to Dr. James Turner, MB, PhD, at the National Institute for Medical Research, London.  The Turner laboratory studies the unique behavior of chromosomes during germ cell development in mice and marsupials.

In 2009, Cloutier was awarded a Marshall Scholarship to begin his PhD work with Dr. Turner.  In the Turner Lab, Cloutier will investigate the epigenetics and genetics of chromosomes during germ cell and embryonic development in females, with hopes of elucidating their behavior in specific disease models, such as Turner syndrome and Down syndrome.  Through the NIH Oxford-Cambridge Scholars program, Cloutier will continue and expand his PhD project with Dr. Rafael “Daniel” Camerini-Otero, MD, PhD, at the National Institutes of Health.  At the NIH, Cloutier will utilize bioinformatic and computational biology approaches to generate comprehensive gene expression profiles for germ cell development in disease mouse models.  Following his dissertation, Cloutier plans to attend medical school to prepare him for a career in translational biomedical research.  In addition to his academic pursuits, Cloutier is an avid cyclist and hiker, and he enjoys tennis, ice hockey, dancing, and music. 


Natasha Fewkes

NIH-Oxford Scholar

Degree: University of California Los Angeles, B.S. Mathematics

Research Interests: Immunology, Immune self-tolerance

Student profile photo Natasha




After receiving my undergraduate degree in mathematics at UCLA I began working in molecular biology with Kenneth Prehoda PhD at the University of Oregon where I studied the binding domain of Myosin II.  This work led to a second author publication in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.  Through this experience my interest in making research a significant part of my career grew.  The following year I began medical school at Oregon Health and Science University where I sought out every opportunity to spend time in the lab.  Between my first and second years of medical school I worked with Daniel Marks MD PhD in pediatric endocrinology where I studied the effects of maternal diet on breast milk.  I was a finalist in the American College of Physicians National Student Research Abstract Competition, and gave an oral presentation at their national meeting.

After my first two years of medical school I was selected to become a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Research Scholar.  As a Research Scholar I spent a year working in the laboratory of Dr. Crystal Mackall, Chief of Pediatric Oncology, where I studied the modulation of thymic and bone marrow niches using a tyrosine kinase inhibitor. This laboratory experience allowed me to reevaluate my career goals.  While becoming a physician scientist remained my long-term career goal, I have decided I would like to pursue this goal through a combined MD PhD as opposed to an MD alone.

For my PhD research I remain in Dr. Mackall’s lab where I study the role of IL-7 signaling on dendritic cells in tolerance. I seek to understand how tolerance is maintained and broken throughout a broad spectrum of immune physiology and pathophysiologies. .  I will use both the gut and tumor microenvironments as prototypic immune activating and immunosuppressive milieus in which I will assess the role of IL-7 signaling on DCs in maintaining tolerance. I hypothesize that IL-7 signaling on DCs plays a central role in maintaining immune tolerance and a critical role in preventing autoimmunity during lymphopenia. I further hypothesize that interruption of IL-7 signaling on DCs will increase the incidence and/or severity of autoimmune colitis during lymphopenia and may also overcome tumor-associated immune tolerance during lymphopenia.


Cedar Fowler

NIH-Cambridge Scholar

Degree: BA-Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Reed College

Research Interests: Immunology; Infectious Diseases; InflammationStudent profile photo Cedar




Originally from Montana, I did my undergraduate work in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Reed College, Portland, OR. After completing a senior thesis in synthetic chemistry, I worked as a research assistant in a chemical biology laboratory and then as a clinical research coordinator in the Hematological Malignancies department at Oregon Health & Sciences University, OHSU. These experiences helped me to decide to pursue a MD / MPH at Tufts Medical School.

Following my preclinical years, I decided to further explore research and spent a year as an HHMI-NIH Research Scholar. The focus of the project was on tissue specific cellular promoters for gene therapy in a canine model of Leukocyte Adhesion Deficiency. This research experience convinced me of the importance of research in my future career goals and I have decided to pursue this interest through combined MD/PhD/MPH program.

During my doctorate, as part in the NIH Cambridge Scholars program, I am focusing on immunology and primary immune deficiency syndromes under the guidance of Dr. Holland, NIAID, and Dr. Bryant, Cambridge. The projects that I will be involved aim at understanding how the immune system functions through characterization of inflammation and its effect in immune deficiencies. The project will take advantage of both the patient samples available at the NIH as well as the mouse models of these immune deficiencies.

Outside of the laboratory I like to spend my time in the outdoors; hiking, sailing, and skiing.



Sonya Hanson

NIH-Oxford Scholar

Degree: University of Southern California, B.S., Biophysics, 2009

Research Interests: Structural Biology, Computational Biochemistry, Neuroscience

Student profile photo Sonya




Sonya Hanson graduated from the University of Southern California in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science in Biophysics and a minor in Screenwriting.  During her time at USC, half of her tuition was paid by USC’s National Merit Presidential Scholarship.  For her senior year at USC, Sonya received the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship which was established by the United States Congress to award students in science, mathematics, and engineering that have the commitment and potential to make a significant contribution to his or her field.  Sonya published two papers in 2007 and 2008 in Biophysical Chemistry and the Journal of Biophysical Chemistry A, respectively, on models of enzyme kinetics that she developed with Dr. Santiago Schnell at Indiana University.   The same summer Sonya presented these results at the 2007 Annual Meeting for the Society of Mathematical Biology in San Jose, CA, she started working in the lab of Dr. Lin Chen at USC.  In Dr. Chen’s lab, Sonya used her experience in modelling biological systems to study the protein-protein interactions in the autoimmune disease myasthenia gravis, the results of which she presented at the 2008 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor Conference in England.  In addition to her scientific research, Sonya found time to reinstate USC’s Society of Physics Students, spending two years as President; perform as an active member of the Spirit of Troy, the USC Trojan Marching Band, serving as a squad leader for two years and a section leader for one; and receive a Renaissance Scholar designation for combining the diverse fields of Biophysics and Screenwriting.  Sonya is looking forward to focusing her efforts during her DPhil on the computational and experimental tools of biophysics to understand the molecular mechanisms of the nervous system.  She fully believes that developing our knowledge of the basic principles of neuroscience will be crucial to understanding and curing the neurological diseases that can be so devastating to individuals and families.


Stephanie Hill

Student profile photo Stephanie



My name is Stephanie Hill, and I will graduate from the University of Kansas this May with dual degrees in Chemistry and Biochemistry. I have over three years of experience in the laboratory of Brian S.J. Blagg, primarily focused in the organic synthesis of novel small molecule inhibitors of Hsp90, which was recently published in Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry. Additionally, I have experience working in sterile cell culture conditions and troubleshooting an ELISA assay for Her2 degradation.

The implications that protein folding, misfolding, and aggregation have for neurodegenerative diseases are intriguing to me, so for my thesis research, I would like to shift gears from synthesis and focus on the mechanism and kinetics of protein folding.  I have already selected an advisor at Cambridge, Dr. Jane Clarke, who uses single molecule force experiments to probe folding.  For the NIH portion of my research, I hope to use alternative methods, perhaps laser spectroscopy or NMR, to investigate protein folding from another angle. 


Prantik Kundu

Student profile photo Prantik




I have spent the past year as a Research Support Specialist in the Department of Neurology at the University of Miami (UM). My focus has been the study of neurodegenerative movement disorders with fMRI and electrophysiological and pharmacological covariates. I have designed block, event-related, and resting state paradigms to study the functional properties of the whole brain, as well as basal ganglia and brainstem nuclei. I have also conducted structural analysis with segmentation, cortical modeling, and diffusion tensor imaging, in addition to developing software to study tremor characteristics in patients of Parkinson's Disease and Essential Tremor.

I have recently submitted a first-author manuscript on a novel connectivity analysis to peer review, and I have had a second-author manuscript on a virtual reality study of human agency submitted to Nature Neuroscience.
For graduate study, I am interested in the neurobiological modes of human brain activity. The “default mode” is one example that is predominantly active during rest. In fMRI, it is seen as a characteristic spatial connectivity pattern, and with EEG it is represented in the alpha frequency band of electrostatic brain activity. The steady-state properties of these modes are heavily studied, and I believe that the dynamical relationships between modes of task and rest, various levels of task intensity, and between distinct internal modes (i.e. alpha and beta rhythms) can also reveal much about brain function and disease. There may be consistency in mode dynamics within the healthy population at large, and there may be consistent deficits in neurological and psychiatric disorders such as Tourette's syndrome, ADHD, and affective disorders. With increasing computational power and emerging signal processing techniques, these dynamical properties may be identified at the subject or even event levels, and developed into new biomarkers for diagnosis and prevention of neuropsychiatric disorders.



Tamara Litwin

NIH-Cambridge Scholar

Degree: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, S.B. Chemistry, 2009

Research Interests: Nucleic acid biochemistry, Biophysics

Student profile photo Tamara

Tamara graduated with a 5.0 GPA and an S.B. in Chemistry from MIT.  As a freshman, she did research on the synthesis of hydrogel microspheres for drug delivery in the lab of Professor Darrell Irvine which was later published in Nanoletters.  Tamara later worked on x-ray crystallography of mutant thioredoxin in the lab of Professor Catherine Drenan and spent a summer doing x-ray crystallography of antibiotic-resistant ribosomes in the lab of Professor Ada Yonath at the Weizmann Institute of Science.   She spent a summer investigating science policy for the MIT Washington Office, and upon her return to MIT was named a Presidential Fellow of the Center for the Study of the Presidency.  Tamara is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and was awarded the Merck Index Award for outstanding scholarship by the MIT Chemistry Department.

Tamara was awarded an NIH-Cambridge Fellowship by NIH and an International Student Scholarship by the University of Cambridge.  She will complete her PhD in the labs of Dr. Keir Neuman of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at NIH and Dr. Ian Holt of the Medical Research Council – Mitochondrial Biology Unit at Cambridge.  Her research will involve the mitochondrial nucleoid protein ATAD3 and its interaction with mitochondrial DNA and other proteins.  Tamara will use both biochemical and novel single molecule biophysical techniques to characterize ATAD3.  This research will lead to greater understanding of mitochondrial biology, which has been implicated in diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and premature aging.

Tamara was as a teaching assistant for the second semester course in organic chemistry and served on the board of the MIT Undergraduate Biochemistry Association.  She was also chair of her undergraduate residence hall.  Outside of the lab Tamara enjoys dancing, rock climbing, reading classic literature, and traveling.  She is looking forward to adding the United Kingdom to the list of countries she has lived in, which currently includes the United States, Japan, and Israel.


Joel R. Meyerson

NIH-Cambridge Scholar

PhD Advisors: Sriram Subramaniam (NIH - NCI) and John E. Walker (Cambridge MRC - MBU)


Stephanie Mok

NIH-Cambridge Scholar

Degree: Harvard University A.B. in Neurobiology, Secondary Concentration in Health Policy, 2009

Research Interests: Autism spectrum disorders, Neuroimaging, Genetics

Student profile photo Stephanie

Stephanie Mok graduated from Harvard University with an artium baccalaureus (A.B.) in Neurobiology and secondary concentration in Health Policy.  Throughout her undergraduate career, she researched in a developmental Neurobiology laboratory under the mentorship of Dr. Michael Greenberg at Harvard Medical School where she characterized the function of two transcription factors, Bhlhb5 and Prdm8, in the development and maturation of the mouse central nervous system.  In her senior honors thesis work, she analyzed the mechanistic relationship between Bhlhb5 and Prdm8 in the regulation of target genes crucial in the formation of neurons in the neurosensory and motor pathways in mice.

For her PhD study, Stephanie will conduct a collaborative project under the dual mentorship of Dr. Scott Young at the National Institute of Mental Health and Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen at the University of Cambridge Autism Research Centre.  Stephanie's graduate work will involve a translational magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study in mice and humans where she will examine the role of oxytocin on activity in the amygdala of the brain during the processing of emotion-associated social stimuli.  Through her research, Stephanie hopes to better understand the neuronal processes underlying deficits in social behaviors that are exhibited commonly in patients of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).  In addition to her research interests, Stephanie is a violinist in the NIH Philharmonia, pianist, and aspiring bass guitarist.  



Wm. Brad O'Dell

NIH-Cambridge Scholar

Degree: University of Tennessee, B.A., College Scholars Program with emphasis in Structural Chemistry, 2009

Research Interests: Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy and Imaging, Biophysical Chemistry, and Cancer Biology

Student profile photo Brad




Brad O'Dell graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the College Scholars Program for his studies in structural chemistry at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN.  Brad engaged in research throughout his undergraduate career, first in the laboratory of Dr. John F.C. Turner and then with Dr. David C. Baker, both in the UT Department of Chemistry. Through collaboration between Dr. Baker's lab and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Brad worked in the field of neutron scattering at both the US Spallation Neutron Source and the ISIS facility, Chilton, UK under the guidance of Dr. Sylvia E. McLain.  The bulk of his research revolved around the structural characterization of aqueous solutions of amino acids and carbohydrates.  For this work, along with his academic performance, Brad was awarded the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship in 2008 and a Cambridge International Student Scholarship in 2009.  Though having worked in the "big science" realm of neutron scattering, Brad's interest in research began and remains with nuclear magnetic resonance.

As an NIH graduate partnership student, Brad hopes to learn and further develop the techniques of hyperpolarized MR spectroscopy and MR spectroscopic imaging in the laboratory of Dr. Kevin Brindle at the Cambridge Department of Biochemistry.  He hopes to then apply these techniques through in vivo characterization of animal models of brain metastasis designed in the laboratory of Dr. Kathleen Kelly at the National Cancer Institute.  Outside the laboratory, Brad enjoys visiting his family's farm where he entertains the family cat and serves as his community's unofficial science and technology advisor.


David Reshef

Student profile photo David




Research Interests:   I am currently a master’s student in computer science at MIT.  As a Marshall Scholar, I will be pursuing a D.Phil in Statistics (potentially statistical genetics) at Oxford in conjunction with the GPP.  I am most interested in the application of computational methods toward identifying disease defining factors, whether on the micro scale (genomic techniques) or on the macro scale (epidemiology).  I have been particularly interested in infectious diseases thus far, but am open to working on just about any disease.  My goal is to apply my computational background towards problems in medicine.  Following my D.Phil, I will be matriculating in the HST program at Harvard Medical School as a member of the GPP MSTP partnership.

Research Experience: My research experience has focused primarily on three major projects thus far.  At Johns Hopkins University, I helped develop a rapid computerized malaria diagnostic, with the goal of being able to streamline and improve this particularly painstaking diagnostic procedure.  At Harvard Medical School, in the laboratory of Professor Robert Brown, I developing a muscle membrane repair assay for high throughput screening of potential therapeutics for muscular dystrophy. Finally, my master’s thesis with Professor Pardis Sabeti focused on developing a platform and novel methods for the rapid analysis and visualization of epidemiological data.  This platform applies statistical models, machine learning algorithms, and artificial intelligence techniques to epidemiological data to identify disease-defining factors, and intuitive, real-time visualizations for the simultaneous, dynamic analysis of these factors.  This far, this platform has been used to analyze influenza, gonorrhea, HIV, and swine flu datasets by the CDC, the Clinton Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health.


Alex Ritter

NIH-Cambridge Scholar

Degrees: Concordia College (Moorhead, MN), B.A. Biology, B.A. Chemistry

Research Interests: Immunology and Cell Biology

Student profile photo Alex





Alex Ritter graduated summa cum laude from Concordia College in Moorhead, MN in 2009 with Bachelor’s of Arts degrees in both Biology and Chemistry.  His undergraduate tuition was funded in part by a Concordia Presidential Scholarship and a National Merit Scholarship.  His leadership and academic talents were recognized in his membership in the national leadership society Omicron Delta Kappa, Tri Beta National Biological Honor Society, and his presence on the Dean’s list all 8 semesters of study. Alex became excited about research as a result of his work with Dr. Adam Linstedt at Carnegie


Mellon University during a NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates program.  He worked on a project that focused on fusion machinery in the Golgi Apparatus and discovered a latent interest in fluorescence microscopy techniques, molecular and cell biology.  He went on to present this research at an American Society of Biochemists and Molecular Biologists (ASBMB)-sponsored regional undergraduate research meeting, winning a travel award to present at the ASBMB National Meeting in New Orleans.  When he made the decision to pursue research as a career, Alex applied for and was granted a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship.  At Concordia College, Alex played the saxophone in concert and jazz bands, hosted a weekly radio talk show, was heavily involved in intramural sports, frequented the roofs of several campus structures, and was the captain of an intercollegiate Ultimate Frisbee traveling team.  Alex enjoys writing and recording music and hopes to row for his college at Cambridge in some capacity.  As an NIH-Cambridge Scholar, Alex studies the relationship between proteins involved in cilia formation and the activity of Cytotoxic T Lymphocytes (CTLs) in humans by examining the CTLs of patients exhibiting pathologies in cilia formation and function.  His work involves a heavy use of both fixed and live-cell laser confocal microscopy.


Caroline Robertson

NIH-Cambridge Scholar

Degree: Columbia University, B.A., Neuroscience and Behavior, Religion, 2009

Research Interests: Neurobiology of autism, Visual neuroscience, Empathy, fMRI

Student profile photo Caroline

I graduated from Columbia University in May, where I majored in both Neuroscience and Religion, with a focus on philosophy and ethics. I’ve worked as a research assistant in neuroscience and philosophy departments since I was seventeen, beginning in Professor David Bradley’s visual neuroscience laboratory at UChicago, where I did electrophysiological research on motion perception in the MT and ending, most recently, in Professor Simon Baron-Cohen’s Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University, where I studied the effects of prenatal testosterone on brain development, volumetric differences in the limbic system, and self-representation in people with and without autism, using structural and functional MRI.

Having been awarded both an NIH-Cambridge Scholarship and a Gates- Cambridge scholarship, I am now beginning a PhD on the neurobiology of autism, supervised by Dr. Chris Baker at NIH and Professor Simon Baron- Cohen at Cambridge. Along with a clinical interest in the disorder, I am drawn to autism research because it addresses fascinating questions about the mind (such as theory of mind, self-processing, empathy, etc), while firmly grounded in neurobiology.

Although autism is a disorder about which we know little, it seems to have roots in parts of the brain that we understand quite well, such as the visual system. My PhD research aims to exploit this intersection by targeting a consistent deficit in autism, coherent motion perception, using both psychophysical and fMRI techniques. A general question I am investigating right now is the neurological roots of the commonly observed tendency in autism to “see the trees, but not the forest.” My primary research technique is functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).


Austin Swafford

NIH-Cambridge Scholar

The University of Texas at Dallas, B.S. Molecular Biology (summa cum laude, Collegium V Honors) 2009

Research Interests: Type 1 Diabetes, biomedical engineering, bionanotechnology

Student profile photo Austin





Austin Swafford, a native of New Orleans, Louisiana, was selected to become a Eugene McDermott Scholar at the University of Texas at Dallas (UT Dallas) in 2005 and graduated with Collegium V Honors and summa cum laude with a Bachelor’s of Science in Molecular Biology. During his time at UT Dallas he participated in a wide range of activities, including arts, intramural sports, teaching, tutoring, and volunteering. From 2006-2008 Austin led a group of students who successfully designed and petitioned for the creation of a minor in nanotechnology at UT Dallas as a way to address the educational needs of those interested in pursuing careers in the burgeoning field of nanotechnology.  He later served as Secretary and then President of Meteor Theater, UT Dallas’ film group and volunteered through the Chemistry Student Association. In 2008, Austin became a pioneer Peer-Led Team Learning group leader for UT Dallas’ Gateways to Excellence in Mathematics and Science program and was chosen to serve as the student representative to present the program to the UT System Board of Chancellors. He was also a tutor for Hebert Marcus Elementary, a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, and through the Destination Imagination creative problem-solving organization Austin served as an appraiser, instructor, team leader, and four-year competitor for UT Dallas’ globally 1st ranked team.

In the laboratory, Austin's undergraduate research was focused on the field of nanotechnology and its interaction with biological systems. His early work involved investigating the use of fuel-driven shape-memory alloys as mechanical actuators and the development of conductive concrete under Drs. Ray H. Baughman and Mikhail Kozlov of the Alan G. MacDiarmid Nanotech Institute at UT Dallas. Upon transitioning to the biological realm, Austin’s initial work involved the chemical and physical characterization of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) under the direction of Drs. Rockford K. Draper and Paul Pantano with the Bionanosciences Group of the Nanotech Institute. Success in this area enabled him to begin examining the biocompatibility of CNTs coated in a variety of dispersal agents. This work earned Austin a position as a life science intern with Dr. Gareth Hughes at Zyvex Corporation, a Texas molecular nanotechnology company. There he studied the biocompatibility of components to be used in the Neuro-micro-transponder (NeuT) division of DARPA’s Human-Assisted  Neural  Devices (HAND) Program. Through continued collaborative efforts with UT Dallas Austin also prepared and tested dispersions of CNTs with novel dispersal agents which resulted in a U.S. Patent Application currently under review. In the summer of 2007, Austin was awarded a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Directed by Dr. Ellen S. Vitetta, head of the Cancer Immunobiology Center, he purified CNT-monoclonal antibody complexes for use in the targeted thermal ablation of human breast cancer cells. This successful work was later published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2008. Continued work under Drs. Draper and Pantano at UT Dallas allowed Austin exploit traditional organic chemistry methods to produce selectively modified double-walled CNTs. In his approach, the outer carbon nanotube is functionalized to serve as a dispersal agent for the inner, intact nanotube which efficiently absorbs NIR light, maximizing its heating efficacy. Experiments continue at UT Dallas examining the use of his novel strategy alongside other methods of utilizing CNTs for the selective photothermal ablation of cancer cells.

Austin is the recipient of several awards recognizing his accomplishments in the area of scientific research. In 2007 & 2008 he was awarded an Undergraduate Research Award at UT Dallas and presenting his research in the spring of 2009, he was awarded 1st Place in the Undergraduate Research Poster Competition at UT Dallas. In 2008 he was announced as a Barry M. Goldwater Scholar and in 2009 he became a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow and an NIH-Cambridge Scholar.

Austin's PhD research will be to develop methods to detect pancreatic β cell autoimmunity and the prevent Type 1A diabetes (T1D). Working under the direction of Professor John Todd, chair of the Department of Medical Genetics in Cambridge and Dr. Michael Lenardo of the Laboratory of Immunology in the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious disease, he will explore the use of a novel electrochemiluminescence-based assay to detect the destruction of pancreatic β cells as a precursor to development of T1D. Accurate prediction of T1D will thereby enable the selection of subjects for a trial to prevent T1D by delivery of a targeted peptide to trigger apoptosis of T cell populations activated against pancreatic β cells. This therapeutic strategy should result in the tolerization of the immune system to the pancreatic β cells due to the loss of the β cell autoreactive population of T cells underlying the disease.

Austin is an avid traveler  having driven to each of the 48 contiguous United States, Canada and Mexico before his undergraduate education. With support from the McDermott Scholars Program, he served as a pioneering exchange student to University College Cork, Ireland where he studied plant biotechnology, toxicology, and Irish fiddle and Early Medieval Archaeology. In the summer of 2008, he lived in Nice, France where he completed an intensive immersion course before traveling throughout continental Europe.

The following students have been accepted into Track 1 of the NIH MD/PhD Partnership Program.  They will begin their full time PhD research in the summer of 2011. 


Michael Krause

Student profile photo Michael

Currently, my interests lie in the area of infectious diseases, and more specifically in host-pathogen interactions.  In the past, I have worked on the pathogenesis of West Nile virus and experimental autoimmune encephalitis, a murine model of multiple sclerosis.  For the past year and a half, I have been working in the Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research, NIAID, NIH.  With Dr. Rick Fairhurst, I have been exploring the protective mechanism of hemoglobin polymorphisms against severe malaria.  During my most recent trip to our laboratory’s field site in Mali, West Africa, I spent three months examining the properties of parasites infecting children with sickle hemoglobin S trait and hemoglobin C trait.  My work has shown that parasites from children with these hemoglobinopathies exhibit more virulent characteristics than those parasites from children without protective polymorphisms.

For my D. Phil. thesis work, I plan to continue my work in elucidating the mechanism by which hemoglobin polymorphisms protect against severe disease, and to discover novel genetic determinants that influence malaria severity.



Kiran Agarwal-Harding

Student profile photo Kiran




My interests lie in the fields of neurology, neurosurgery, and interventional radiology. I have been working in neurosurgery laboratories, shadowing doctors in neurology wards, observing doctors conduct neurological exams, perform surgeries, and monitor and treat patients in the Neural Critical Care Unit or the Operating Room. As an undergraduate, I conducted a clinical research project at the Apollo Hospital in New Delhi, India where I evaluated the diagnosis and treatment protocol for Spinal Tuberculosis in the hospital’s Neurosurgery Department. Also, In the Department of Neurosurgery at Stanford University, I worked on developing microimmunopanning microfluidic chips to improve rapid and high throughput characterization of cancer stem cells.

I continued to develop my interests in neurology and neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, where I worked on a collaborative project between the Department of Biomedical Engineering, the Johns Hopkins Hospital Neural Critical Care Unit, and Infinite Biomedical Technologies. I assessed the effectiveness of heart rate variability as a detection tool for high intracranial pressure following traumatic brain injury. Back at Stanford, I continued pursuing translation biomedical research at the Department of Bioengineering. I developed a novel method for improved characterization of the lower extremity muscle spasticity in Cerebral Palsy patients with crouch gait, using motion capture analysis and speed-matched comparison.

I would like to continue applying bioengineering to the field of medicine, in an effort to improve diagnosis and treatment of disease. I believe biomedical engineering will help me gain greater insight into these complex fields to develop efficient and cost-effective tools for domestic and international application. For my PhD, I would like to work on developing mathematical models or bioengineering tools to improve treatment of neurological illnesses, such as traumatic brain injury, and apply my findings to developing country settings, where cost-effective and efficient diagnosis and treatment protocols are so desperately needed. I would like my project to combine my passions for bioengineering, clinically translational research, and international application to under-served populations. My interests are in device design and bioengineering, neurosciences and neurosurgery, and public health.