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Post-Doctoral Fellow Receives Award from National Cancer Institute

Aria Vaishnavi, PhD, a post-doctoral fellow at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah (U of U) has received the first annual National Cancer Institute (NCI) Pathway to Independence Award for Outstanding Early Stage Postdoctoral Researchers (K99/R00). The "Early K99" grant supports researchers who need only a short period of training and mentorship after their doctoral degrees and before they’re hired into a faculty position.

"This award is a recognition of Dr. Vaishnavi’s talents, abilities, and achievements both as a graduate student at the University of Colorado and as a postdoctoral fellow at HCI," says Vaishnavi’s mentor and trainer at HCI, Martin McMahon, PhD. "I am delighted and proud that Dr. Vaishnavi is the recipient of this award and very much look forward to helping her develop a successful career as an independent cancer researcher."

With this grant, Vaishnavi will research how cancer-promoting pathways allow a small number of lung cancer cells to remain in the body. These lingering cells are known as minimal residual disease (MRD), which Vaishnavi will study by treating mice with the same drugs that are used to treat lung cancer in the clinic.

This type of MRD analysis will increase our understanding of how to target and eliminate the cancer cells that remain in the patient during and after treatment. Potentially, patients could be then rendered cured of disease.

"Receiving this award is such an honor," says Vaishnavi. "I have been so fortunate in my career with having excellent mentors and training opportunities at each step, and I wouldn’t have been competitive without the help from all of those mentors, especially Dr. McMahon. This award will significantly help me to transition into a faculty position, and get started in accomplishing the research I proposed in this application."