JABSOM grad students share $15K from ARCS

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Three students from the University of Hawaiʻi’s John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) were awarded 2020 Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Awards. Brien Haun, a Ph.D. student in Cell and Molecular Biology program, and Lauren Ching, a Ph.D. student in Tropical Medicine, Microbiology, and Pharmacology, both received Ellen M. Keonig Awards in Medicine. ARCS awarded the Starbuck Award in Medicine to Aileen Li, a fifth-year doctoral student in the Developmental and Reproductive Biology Program.

Brien Haun is studying protective antibody production under his advisor, Dr. Axel Lehrer. Emerging infectious diseases such as those caused by SARS-CoV-2, Ebola, and Zika viruses pose serious threats to human health. These viruses often result in uncontrollable epidemics or pandemics with substantial mortality and comorbidities. This prompts the scientific and medical communities to rapidly respond with treatments and vaccines to limit the damage caused by these pathogens. However, it is rarely clear how entire populations will respond to immunization, especially in those with underlying diseases that impact the immune system, such as cancer, diabetes, and HIV. Haun  and his colleagues work to respond to emerging and re-emerging threats through vaccine development and has produced successful vaccine candidates to Ebola, Sudan, Marburg and Zika viruses with proven efficacy in non-human primates. Haun’s current research involves unlocking the host’s immune system to improve vaccine responses. Haun is a high school graduate from Florida and earned a Bachelor of Science in Molecular Cell Biology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. In addition to solving puzzles in science, Haun enjoys traveling to new places, photographing the world, and surfing.

Lauren Ching is a Ph.D. student working with Drs. Vivek R. NerurkarMarian E. Melish, and Andras Bratincsak on a research project aimed at investigating the immunopathogenesis of Kawasaki disease to identify novel therapeutics. Kawasaki disease is a rare fever and rash disease that primarily occurs in babies and young children (less then 5 years old). Kawasaki disease is the leading cause of pediatric acquired heart disease in the developed world. For my research project, we are using clinical samples to understand the mechanisms by which Kawasaki disease-associated changes to the coronary arteries occurs and develop new therapeutics aimed at ameliorating these changes. Ching graduated from Punahou High School and earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Boston College. Ching enrolled in the TRMD Graduate program, because of her passion for human health and disease, and her interests in improving global health through basic science research. Upon completion of her PhD she plans to continue basic science research in human health and disease.  Her interests include hiking, running with her dog, and crafting.

Aileen Li’s research, conducted in the laboratory of Dr. Yusuke Marikawafocuses on gastrulation, the foremost and crucial stage in the formation and development of the embryo that results in the formation of three-germ layers, which are the foundation for all tissues and organs in the body. It is also the most sensitive to disturbances and can cause embryo lethality and birth defects. Li graduated from the President William McKinley High School, earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Colorado Denver, and later earned a Master of Science in Developmental and Reproductive Biology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. These achievements are all laudable as Aileen is the first in her family to graduate from high school, go to college, and pursue a graduate degree. Her goal is to finalize her research and complete her PhD, then transition to a career that focuses on teaching, which she found a passion for when she was working as a teaching assistant during graduate school.  Her interests include: cooking and baking, crafting, going out and playing with her dog Dai Dai, video games, jigsaw puzzles, and lounging and watching videos.

Haun, Ching, and Li each received $5,000 from the ARCS Honolulu Chapter Although the annual awards banquet was cancelled in light of the global pandemic, the local chapter still honored each promising young scholar during a critical time in their graduate studies. 

The ARCS Foundation is a non-profit organization that advances science and technology in the United States by providing financial awards to academically outstanding graduate and undergraduate students pursuing degrees in science, engineering and medical research.