The Blavatnik Family Fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine: Fostering mentorship, creativity and innovation in biomedical research

Inaugural Penn-Blavatnik Family Foundation Fellows and Penn Staff at the 2018 Blavatnik National Awards Ceremony
from left: Megan Osvath, Kelly Jordan-Sciutto, Torren Blair, Linda Zhou, Cedric Xia, Kamen Simeonov, Jinyang Li, Edward Chuang, Divyansh Agarwal

 

The coronavirus pandemic has thrust the power of science into the forefront, offering a path out of the darkness.

That mission of discovery is at the root of the Blavatnik Family Foundation’s support of emerging scientific leaders at the University of Pennsylvania, which recently celebrated its third annual class of Blavatnik Family Fellows in biomedical research.

The program underscores not only the value and ambitious reach of science but also the importance of conveying scientific concepts to the public.

“The global upheaval caused by COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of investment in basic and translational research, and I can’t emphasize enough how much young investigators appreciate the commitment to science by the Blavatnik Family Foundation,” said Danielle Murashige, a 2019-2020 fellow.

 The Blavatnik Family Fellowship is competitively awarded to six students per year in Penn Medicine’s Biomedical Research Graduate Studies program, covering a year of tuition and other expenses to fellows during a critical training period with their scientific mentors.

That has allowed them to expand their network and join a larger Blavatnik scientific community.

“This prestigious award is not only a highlight of my early career, but it has also helped me connect with co-recipients at Penn as well as with rising stars and distinguished scientists at the New York Academy of Sciences and the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists,” said Daniel Zhang, a 2019-2020 fellow.

The first two cohorts of Blavatnik Family Fellows already are making an impact.

For instance, Divyansh Agarwal, a 2018-2019 inaugural Blavatnik Family Fellow, co-authored a paper in Nature Metabolism last fall on islet transplantation in mice and monkey models. The work shows promising results that may provide an alternative to lifelong insulin injections and blood-sugar monitoring in patients with type 1 diabetes.

Divyansh said that receiving the fellowship was the highlight of the training for his doctorate degree, thankful that it allowed him to focus on the science, instead of having to worry about college finances.

The latest fellows are Bridget Gosis, David Lee, Phuong Nguyen, Joseph Park, Tiffany Tsang, and Qin Zhu. Their research projects span the fields of cell and molecular biology, neuroscience, genomics and computational biology.

When the $2 million program was launched in 2018, entrepreneur and philanthropist Len Blavatnik said the foundation’s partnership with Penn Medicine was centered in the hope of empowering talented students to pursue high-risk, high-reward projects in the lab.

That will benefit cutting-edge science now and over time, he said, as the young scientists grow, drive innovation and generate more interest in their respective fields. As part of the application process, students must describe how to communicate their science to a lay audience.

Gosis, who is investigating nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, said the fellowship is a critical step in transforming scientific passions into discoveries that improve human health. “My vision is to see my research translate into therapy for patients, and it is such an honor that the Blavatnik Family Foundation is helping me to pursue this goal,” she said.

 

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