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ARCS Honors Two Moran Student Physician-Scientists

Ashley Polski, MD, left, and Nnana Amakiri, MD.
Ashley Polski, MD, left, and Nnana Amakiri, MD.

The Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Foundation awards $15,000 annually to at least one incoming John A. Moran Eye Center resident to support research.

This gift allows promising young scientists to pursue research during their residencies with the hope they will choose careers that continue their scientific investigations. Moran matches the award for the following two years of residency, providing a total of $45,000.

This year, ARCS named two recipients: Nnana Amakiri, MD, who received the Mark and Kathie Miller Award in honor of Moran CEO Randall J Olson, MD; and Ashley Polski, MD, who received the ARCS Foundation Utah Chapter Award.

A message from Randall J Olson, MD, about the ARCS program.

Nnana Amakiri, MD

Dr. Amakiri earned his Bachelor of Arts in Biology from Cornell University in 2017 with a concentration in Neurobiology. He completed his medical degree at Texas Tech Health Sciences Center in 2021, where he was elected president of his medical school’s Gold Humanism Honor Society and president of the Dean’s Ambassadors group.

Dr. Amakiri is one of four siblings whose Nigerian parents immigrated to the United States several years before his birth. This strong international connection and experience seeing Nigeria’s health system first-hand spurred his interest in global health.

At Texas Tech, Dr. Amakiri also spent time researching the effects of amyloid beta cell components and their interaction with MicroRNA in the genetic makeup of Alzheimer’s disease.

As a resident at the Moran Eye Center, Dr. Amakiri will focus on extending sustainable, high-quality eye care to resource-poor areas worldwide.

Like the role models who shaped his career growth, Dr. Amakiri plans to make a special effort to mentor students from underserved backgrounds—especially at the high school, undergraduate, and medical student levels.

Ashley Polski, MD

Dr. Polski graduated Summa Cum Laude from Andrews University in 2016 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Chemistry minor. She earned her medical degree in 2021 from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, where she graduated with Highest Honors and Distinction in Research.

In medical school, Dr. Polski worked with ocular oncologist Jesse L. Berry, MD, to evaluate tissue biopsy and staging in managing patients with ocular surface squamous neoplasia, a tumor that grows on the surface of the eye. As a third-year medical student, she received the USC Dean’s Research Scholarship and Wright Foundation Research Award to spend a dedicated research year at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. There, she investigated aqueous humor—the clear fluid in the front part of the eye—as a minimally invasive biopsy technique for retinoblastoma, the most common type of primary eye cancer in children.

Her many projects included identifying a novel molecular biomarker within the aqueous humor for more targeted, patient-centered retinoblastoma prognostication, and demonstrating a relationship between aqueous humor genomic properties and clinical therapeutic response in retinoblastoma tumors.

The Retina Research Foundation and Knights Templar Eye Foundation awarded Dr. Polski grants to present her work at national conferences. She has contributed to over 13 peer-reviewed journal articles and numerous book chapters related to retinoblastoma genetics and biopsy techniques, healthcare disparities, and prognostication in ocular oncology.

In her free time, Dr. Polski creates miniature oil paintings and developed an art business. She has raised thousands of dollars through her business to support CoachArt, a non-profit organization that provides free arts and athletics programs to children with chronic illnesses.