Medical student awarded prestigious Howard Hughes fellowship

May 23, 2018

By Alex Branch

Sagar Shah awarded prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Medical Research Fellowship
 
UNT Health Science Center medical student Sagar Shah has been awarded a prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Medical Research Fellowship.

Shah, who recently completed his second year at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, is one of just 66 medical, dental and veterinary students selected nationwide to receive support for one year of mentored and in-depth training in biomedical research.

Shah is headed to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in June, where he will conduct his research in the lab of cancer biologist Ronald DePinho, MD, the former president of the cancer hospital. Shah’s research will focus on unraveling a key mechanism causing decreased T-cell infiltration in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) and other KRAS gene-mutated cancers.

Recent studies suggest that a primary reason this deadly form of pancreatic cancer doesn’t respond as well to immune checkpoint therapy as skin and kidney cancers is that there are not as many T cells in the tumor’s microenvironment, Shah said.

“Hopefully, by augmenting the influx of these white blood cells, we can demonstrate a clinical development strategy for patients with these poorly immunogenic cancers,” he said.

The goal of the HHMI Medical Research Fellowship is to encourage the development of future physician-scientists. Each medical fellow receives $43,000 in grant support, and fellows are eligible to apply for a second year in the program. This year, fellows were selected from 38 schools and will work as biomedical scientists at 28 different institutions.

“I’m really interested in a combined medical and scientific career,” Shah said, “It’s one of the best ways to change the status quo for the treatments patients receive. My goal is to utilize this experience to see how I can fit research within my clinical practice as a future physician.”

After Shah completes the fellowship, he will return to UNTHSC for his third year of medical school. He hopes his participation in the program will help form a pipeline for future osteopathic medical students interested in applying to the fellowship.

“I’m excited to come back and share what I learned with my classmates,” he said.

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