Arts and Sciences graduate students named 2023 Pelotonia Scholars

August 24, 2023

Arts and Sciences graduate students named 2023 Pelotonia Scholars

Vaishnavi Sidharthan and Rachel Lew

Two graduate students in the College of Arts and Sciences have been awarded 2023 Pelotonia Graduate Scholarships, a two-year research award that supports graduate students who focus on cancer research in programs ranging from molecular genetics to psychology.

Rachel Lew is part of the Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology Graduate Program and works as a graduate research assistant in the lab of Dr. Christin Burd, associate professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics. Her research focuses on defining the structural mechanisms that drive how cancer-associated gene mutations commonly found in melanoma, leukemia, thyroid and colorectal cancers impact cellular signaling in the body. Her goal is to understand how these mutations influence drug sensitivity in hopes of uncovering new targets for cancer-specific drug discovery.

“A cancer diagnosis brings several "unknowns" to a family,” Lew said. “With this Pelotonia award, I am excited about being able to help bring some light to the nature of this disease, having witnessed firsthand how scary it can be. Cancer research has challenged me to push beyond myself and work toward something meaningful. It would be immensely rewarding to see my work alleviate the stress of cancer and potentially alter the course of someone's future.”

Vaishnavi Sidharthan is a doctoral student in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry as part of Professor Venkat Gopalan’s lab, as well as a graduate teaching associate. Her research deals with the idea of exploring the inhibition of RNase P, a large RNA-protein enzyme, as a potential anti-cancer therapy. The motivation for this project has stemmed from studies that emphasize the link between the dysregulation of certain types of RNA that RNase P processes with the occurrence and progression of various forms of cancer. The research team hopes to develop an anti-cancer therapeutic approach by targeting the RNase P enzyme.

“I am extremely happy and excited to be a part of the Pelotonia Scholar program,” Sidharthan said. “It provides me a wonderful opportunity to interact with other scholars, learn about their research and expand my knowledge on various multi-disciplinary approaches used to find a possible cure for cancer.”

The Pelotonia Graduate Scholars Program provides a two-year research award to the best and brightest Ohio State graduate students who want to help cure cancer. Receiving an award gives these students the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the field of cancer research, and to develop and work on their own independent projects. To date, 184 graduate scholars have been funded. Because of the prestigious nature of the award, many students have reported that receiving a Pelotonia Scholarship has distinguished them from their peers when going into postdoctoral research or moving on to faculty positions.

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