Roy and Diana Vagelos generously established a prize fund in 2013 to honor annually two seniors graduating from the LSM program. One prize is awarded for the greatest achievement in scientific research by a graduating LSM senior. The other prize is awarded for an outstanding graduating LSM senior who plans to go on to graduate study.
Vagelos Prize for Achievement in Scientific Research: Shelby Wilkinson
Shelby, who majored in Biology with a concentration in Molecular and Cell Biology, won the Edna R. Green Award in Biology, as well as the William B. Gordon Award from the Wharton school for academic excellence. Her research, which she conducted under the immediate supervision of Dr. Kunrong Mei, in the laboratory of Professor Wei Guo, was concerned with the molecular basis of exocytosis and its relevance to cell migration and tumor invasion. This entailed detailed molecular manipulations of bacteria and yeast to gain clarity on the molecular basis of exocytosis, or, as she explains it, the mechanisms underlying the movement of cellular cargoes from the inside to the outside of the cell. In particular, she demonstrated the key role played by the Sec3 CorEx motif in recruiting all of the components of the exocyst complex to the site for exocytosis. To achieve this, she used gene recombination and transformation techniques to develop an in vivo model for fluorescence-based studies and employed a pull-down assay to explore the interactions between exocyst subunits and vesicle proteins. As Dr. Guo notes: “Shelby is devoted to her project, and is able to grasp the essence of the problem. She also quickly mastered both the cell biology and biochemistry techniques, and [how to] apply them to her experiments. Her work contributed to the understanding of how the post-Golgi secretory vesicles are targeted to the plasma membrane.”
Shelby had previously done research, for one of her LSM internships, at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, working on drug candidates for cystic fibrosis. Beyond that experience and her LSM courses, she has gone to great pains to learn as much as possible about the implementation of science, through work with Wharton’s Mack Institute for Innovation Management (developing a roadmap for innovation pathways in universities across the United States), and as a Licensing Intern with the Office of Technology Transfer at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Using lessons learned from her LSM Capstone work, she was also part of a small team, NanoXCell, that built a clinical development and commercial plan for a gene therapy innovation that reached the final stages of competitions while at the same time serving as Consulting Director for the Penn Undergraduate Biotech Society. Shelby’s passion is for finding ways to make feasible the development and commercialization of therapies for rare diseases. In the fall she plans to work in Singapore for Tessa Therapeutics, a company focused on the development and commercialization of cancer immunotherapies.
Vagelos Prize for Graduating Senior Planning Graduate Study: Gina Liu
Gina has demonstrated a formidable combination of skills in communication and in quantitative analysis, as well as in leadership, teamwork, and even boxing. In the College, she majored in Biology with a concentration in Computational Biology, and in Wharton her concentration was in Statistics. The analytical skills that she brought to her research, which, as a reflection of her interest in and commitment to health care and in health policy, was primarily in the medical school’s Department of Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Informatics, with Professor Douglas Wiebe. There she worked on a variety of projects, including concussion recovery and mesothelioma, but the project that captivated her imagination the most was concerned with violence prevention, especially the relationship between gun ownership and gun violence. Her timely (is it ever not timely?) work on the effects of mass shootings on gun purchasing behavior led to her winning both the Brooks Web Student Paper Award from the Society for Advancement of Violence and Injury Research, and Penn’s own Emerging Scholar Talk competition. Gina plans eventually to go to medical school, and she has gained meaningful experience with patients at the Penn Wissahickon Hospice. She has shown her ability to recruit people to a cause by increasing the membership and diversifying the organization as President of Penn Boxing. Gina’s teaching and leadership skills were both on display in her capacity of Head Teaching Assistant for the CIS 105 course (Computational Data Exploration). Next for her is a Master’s in Evidence-Based Social Intervention and Policy Evaluation at the University of Oxford in the UK which she will do on a Thouron Fellowship.
Vagelos Prize for Graduating Senior Planning Graduate Study: Abhishek Rao
Abhishek, who plans to attend Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons this fall, will enter medical school having explored health care from an impressively diverse array of perspectives. He already has served patients directly as an Active Lead EMT (and Disaster Response Team Officer) with the Medical Emergency Response Team at Penn. His scientific expertise he has obtained not only through a major in Biology with a concentration in Molecular and Cell Biology, but also through a research internship focused on tissue engineering therapy for head and neck cancer patients with the Center for Translational Research at the Helen F. Graham Cancer Research Center near home in Delaware. In addition, Abhishek has conducted research in other health-related areas: both in clinical research on a variety of cancer-related projects at the Helen F. Graham Center, and in health policy, through PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, with Dr. Chen Kenyon, working on a population health study and a medication adherence incentive study centered on childhood asthma. That however is not to say that everything Abhishek has done has been directly related to medicine. He served throughout his time at Penn with the University Honor Council, ultimately as its Chairman, and has also served his peers through the Biology Student Advisory Committee, and children in the local community through his volunteer tutoring with the Penn Health Initiative. True to form, Abhishek has also broadened his horizons (and showed his fun-loving side – he has a great sense of humor, and a light touch) by participating in Latin and ballroom dance at Penn.
Vagelos Prize for Achievement in Scientific Research: Sophie Phillips
Sophie Phillip's major is in Biology with a concentration in Neurobiology, and she chose to do her research toward her senior thesis in the laboratory of Professor Nicholas Betley of the Department of Biology, who focuses on the investigation of the neural circuits that underlie behavioral responses to physiological needs. Dr. Betley writes: “Sophie has been incredibly dedicated and has made significant contributions to a study aimed at understanding how the brain processes competing signals of need to make adaptive behavioral decisions. Specifically, Sophie has shown that hunger, and neurons in the brain that are active during hunger, are sufficient to suppress the behavioral response to inflammatory pain that occurs after an injury. These findings have significant consequence in the quest for treating pain and finding non-opioid alternatives, as the neural circuits that normally filter and process non-adaptive aspects of pain (such as long term sensitization to pain after injury) can be specifically targeted.”
Before joining Dr. Betley’s laboratory, Sophie had already learned about drug research and development in other ways. In the summer after her freshman year she interned with Oncoceutics, a biotech company focusing its efforts on novel cancer therapies, where she worked on the financial side of operations and the formulation of a clinical development plan for a cancer drug soon to enter clinical trials. The next summer, she conducted clinical research and data analysis at New York University’s Langone Medical Center in the Pediatric Neurosurgery division. In her final summer, Deutsche Bank were fortunate enough to be able to use Sophie’s talents and expertise in analyzing pharmaceutical, medical device, and biotechnology companies. Sophie will be returning to Deutsche Bank’s healthcare desk full-time following graduation. As a backdrop to these many activities, Sophie has demonstrated her leadership skills as a two-term President of the Phi Gamma Nu business fraternity, and as a peer mentor with the Pan-Asian American Community House.
Vagelos Prize for a Graduating Senior Planning Graduate Study: Milan Savani
Milan Savani has made his mark at Penn through his leadership and commitment to research and service. He has done research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia throughout his time at Penn—building on three summers of research he did before that at the UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas. At CHOP, Milan’s work, in Dr. Matthew Weitzman’s laboratory in the Center for Childhood Cancer Research, focused on host cell responses to viral infections in the course of which he learned and applied a broad range of cell and molecular biological techniques including site-directed mutagenesis, qPCR and CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing. This work was in part supported by a grant Milan was awarded from Alex’s Lemonade Stand.
Substantial as his basic research has been, Milan has also been a transformative student leader whose positive influence has shaped not only the students in the LSM program but the very fabric of the program itself. Even before becoming a highly effective founding President of the LSM Student Advisory Board, Milan played a crucial role in a number of developments, including planning the annual LSM Retreat and establishing and overseeing enhanced peer-to-peer mentoring. Milan has shown similar dedication to many activities outside the program, in particular as show manager for the venerable Mask and Wig Club at Penn and President of the Penn Undergraduate Biotech Society. In the former capacity he managed shows on a large scale including organizing national tours, where again he introduced many new ideas and materials. In the latter capacity, he organized numerous events to enhance student exposure to innovations in the industry.
On top of all this and a very heavy courseload, Milan has served many hours as a volunteer at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. There therefore can be little doubt that he will bring his service ethic and proven record of providing effective support, along with his passion and obvious aptitude for research, to his MD-PhD studies after graduation—following a year of consulting with Bain & Company.
Vagelos Prize for Achievement in Scientific Research: Kartik Bhamidipati and Amy Liu
Kartik Bhamidipati's share of this award was for his work in the laboratory of Dr. Vladimir Muzykantov, under the supervision also of Dr. Jake Brenner. The work focused on ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome) where Kartik was instrumental in creating a new mouse model of ARDS much of which he accomplished single-handedly. Dr. Muzykantov writes: “Kartik has used this training to become a very independent researcher. He has virtually by himself accomplished the following: he created a protocol to conjugate polymeric nanoparticles to antibodies, and that protocol has been used to generate date for more than one paper and used by multiple lab members; and he has created assays of lung inflammation using ELISAs, in vitro luciferase reporters, and dye leak in the lung; and he developed the use of FACs in our lab for tracking which cell types in the lung take up the drug nanocarriers we design here. Very few undergrads could accomplish so much.” Kartik has, so far, made three poster presentations and expects to get second authorship on at least two papers. In fall 2016 he will join a PhD program in Immunology at Stanford University.
Amy Liu received her share of this award for the extraordinary work she has done with Dr. David Fajgenbaum, of Penn’s Division of Translational Medicine and Human Genetics, and Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Castleman Disease Collaborative Network. Remarkably, for an undergraduate, Amy has had published, as first author, a systematic literature review of idiopathic multicentric Castleman’s disease in The Lancet Haematology. The review, as the article states, “provides comprehensive information about clinical features, treatment, and outcomes of idiopathic multicentric Castleman’s disease, which accounts for at least 33% of all cases of multicentric Castleman’s disease. Our findings will assist with prompt recognition, diagnostic criteria development, and effective management of the disease.” In the coming year, Amy will continue to work with Dr. Fajgenbaum as Senior Data Research Specialist, before applying to MD/PhD programs.
Vagelos Prize for a Graduating Senior Planning Graduate Study: Osama Ahmed and Diana Bongiorno
Osama Ahmed, who will start at Yale School of Medicine this fall, has proven to be an insatiably inquisitive student and researcher, and a highly capable leader. Osama’s academic work has centered on ophthalmology, for which his ambitious choice of a Biophysics major makes him a natural fit. He has conducted fruitful research both at Scheie Eye Institute and at Wills Eye Hospital that has resulted in presentations to national and international conferences and several peer-reviewed publications, including one in the Journal of Glaucoma. As if that is not enough, he has also conducted research for the Penn Medicine Data Science Team, and Dr. Walter Englander’s Biophysics lab, while at the same time conducting research in health care management. As another consummate communicator, Osama has also found time, despite a formidable curriculum including minors in Chemistry and Mathematics, to share his passion for research and learning with others through his role as Editor-in-Chief of the undergraduate health care journal Synapse, as Director of Marketing and Public Relations for the TEDxPenn conference, and as a member of the Undergraduate Advisory Board for Penn’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships.
Diana Bongiorno starts at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine this fall. She’s another tremendously talented and inquisitive student and researcher who has explored a number of fascinating research areas. In her degree in the College of Arts & Sciences, she concentrated in Neurobiology, and pursued research (leading to publications) in that area, specifically investigating the neural circuits and signaling pathways involved in the control of food intake and energy expenditure in animal models. At the same time, she has been pursuing her interest in the social dynamics of health care through work at the Center for Outcomes Research at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. There she has contributed to a project examining the influence of race and socioeconomic status on disparities in cancer survival, with an eye to gathering information that might help guide policy. She previously worked at the National Institute of Mental Health, and also here at Penn in the Commercialization Acceleration Program through the Wharton Small Business Development Center. In preparing for a medical career, Diana has also shadowed physicians regularly for more than a year that the Rheumatology clinic at the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine, and has also served as a clinical volunteer in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center.
Roy and Diana Vagelos Prize for Achievement in Scientific Research: Srikar Reddy
Srikar receives this award for his independent study work over two semesters in the Biochemistry program, which he did in the lab of Professor David Manning of the Pharmacology graduate group at the Perelman School of Medicine (who generously provided an account of Srikar’s research on which this summary is based). Srikar started by developing, along with post-doctoral fellow Xueshui Guo, a recombinant adenovirus capable of expressing a receptor that recognizes Hedgehog morphogens. Srikar then worked alone to evaluate the receptor by means of radioligand binding. This meant he had to introduce himself to pharmacological theories of receptor occupancy, and figure out the necessary protocols and equipment. Dr. Manning, who describes Srikar’s work as “thoughtful and meticulous,” adds: “What impresses me most about Srikar is how quickly he assimilates concepts and suggestions to, in turn, produce trustworthy results.” Srikar has also proved himself a very able student, doing well in a rigorous curriculum including not only his major in Biochemistry, but also two concentrations in Wharton, in Finance and Accounting. Srikar, who found his scientific research internship in drug discovery at GlaxoSmithKline a real inspiration, is planning on applying to medical school.
Roy and Diana Vagelos Prize for a Graduating Senior Planning Graduate Study: Max Shen
Max has proved himself a student of extraordinary curiosity, more than happy to take on what to most would be a daunting curriculum of courses including some of the most advanced and challenging. He’s majoring in Biology with a minor in Chemistry, and is taking on two concentrations in Wharton, in Finance and Statistics. He’s done remarkably well in his classes, which include many advanced biology courses. In the fall he will finish up a couple of requirements for medical school, and also take on additional advanced biology. After that the immediate plan is to work in consulting for a time with PricewaterhouseCoopers, before going on to medical school. Max has not only shown prowess in the classroom: he’s been researching most recently in the lab of Dr. Doris Wagner of the Department of Biology in the field of plant epigenetics, and will continue this summer. Previously, he did independent research with Professor Mecky Pohlschroeder, who works in the area of the biosynthesis and function of prokaryotic cell envelopes and their surface structures, and interned in Gene Expression at Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Max has also had contact with patients as a volunteer in both Honduras and here at HUP. He’s held leadership positions in the Penn Student Federal Credit Union, and also served admirably as a Peer Advisor here in LSM. Highly intelligent but also competent and kind, he’s proved he has the kind of qualities that would seem ideally suited to make him a great physician.
Roy and Diana Vagelos Prize for Achievement in Scientific Research: Kevin Hershey
Kevin receives the research award for his Senior Thesis project on the relationship between a high fat diet, the μ-opioid receptor, and impulsivity in the mouse model with reference to the action of the opioid receptor antagonist naloxone on the addictive behavior of animals on high fat diets. The overarching principle behind these investigations of naloxone is that eating high fat foods to the point of obesity is likely due to a faulty reward system, leading to addiction. The project will be incorporated into two original publications on which Kevin will be a coauthor with Dr. Teresa Reyes, Research Assistant Professor of Pharmacology at the Perelman School of Medicine. Dr. Reyes reported that Kevin researched and understood the theoretical basis of his work better than many graduate students; she also indicated that his unique skill set and interests, coming both from the Biological Basis of Behavior Program and the Wharton School, allowed him to understand the logistical implications of various experimental approaches. In other words, according to this report, Kevin demonstrated the qualities we hope for an LSM graduate to have- the facility to think critically as both a basic scientist and as a scientist involved in the implementation of research findings.
Roy and Diana Vagelos Prize for a Graduating Senior Planning Graduate Study: Aditi Gupta
Aditi graduates with an impeccable academic record and plans to attend the Weill Cornell School of Medicine at the beginning of the next academic year. Her research accomplishments range from working as a research assistant in the Institute for Advanced Study of India on a project concerned with public policy in India, to serving as a research assistant in Dr. Xiaolu Yang's group in the Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute working on the role played by ubiquitination in cancer progression, to her work as an independent study student in the laboratory of Dr. Doris Stoffers in the Institute of Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism at the Perelman School of Medicine working on the protein chemical characterization of Clec16A, a protein implicated in susceptibility to type 1 diabetes. Moreover, Aditi served on the Executive Board of GlobeMed, University of Pennsylvania, where she was involved in a collaboration with a non-profit agency in Kenya and managed a committee concerned with raising global health awareness across campus. She served on the Student Committee for Undergraduate Education, and as a student mentor for the LSM program. Her academic record, rich and varied research experience, and history of service and leadership make her an outstanding representative of LSM and a promising future leader in medicine.
Roy and Diana Vagelos Prize for Achievement in Scientific Research: Anand Gopal
Although he has already a long, varied and impressive history of research, Anand is being recognized especially for the exceptional work he did toward his independent study project. He worked with Professor Joshua Plotkin of the Biology Department, and especially with Dr. Joel Maslow, a Professor of Medicine in Infectious Diseases. Both supervisors were extremely impressed with Anand's talent and dedication as a researcher. He worked laboriously with a great deal of data, and ended up offering interesting and important insights. Anand's study became the nucleus of a paper which was published earlier this year in the peer-reviewed journal Tuberculosis Research and Treatment. It consisted of an exploration of the long-held belief among physicians that there is a direct relationship between age and increased toxicity among patients treated for latent tuberculosis. Anand sifted through very complex, sometimes incomplete and inconsistent data from the medical records of over 250 patients. He managed to identify key issues, address and understand the limitations of his data, and summarize the information he gleaned as part of a cogent and interesting narrative.
Roy and Diana Vagelos Prize for a Graduating Senior Planning Graduate Study: Elena Madan
Elena has planned to go to medical school for quite some time now, and indeed she has exemplified the best traditions of the LSM program by leading the pre-medical students at Penn through her two-and-a-half years of service as the President of the Penn Pre-Medical Association. She also not only attended to patient needs as a volunteer at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania; she left behind a lasting improvement to that program through conceiving of and founding a volunteer mentoring program. Moreover, she's put her ability to remain calm and poised in the face of pressure to good use as a first responder with Penn's Medical Emergency Response Team. Elena has engaged with the science of medicine not only through her coursework as a Molecular Biology student, but also through her research in Immunology at Penn's School of Medicine, and on melanoma at the Wistar Institute at Penn. She also designed a clinical study for a drug during her internship with Genzyme, a Sanofi company. Her communication skills, and her range of knowledge and talents, are reflected in part by the work she has done as a Critical Writing Tutor and Advisor to the Critical Writing Program, and also as a Consultant with Penn's Commercialization Acceleration Program. She surely has the potential not only to become a fine physician, but a leader in medicine.