Prashant Bhat, a graduate student in the UCLA–Caltech Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), has been awarded a 2021-22 fellowship from the Josephine de Kármán Fellowship Trust.
The trust was established in 1954 by Theodore von Kármán, the first director of what is now Caltech's Graduate Aerospace Laboratories (GALCIT), in memory of his sister, Josephine. Reserved for graduate students going into their final year of doctoral work, the fellowship was created to recognize and support outstanding scholastic achievement. The organization selects from hundreds of applicants to award eight or so fellowships annually in the amount of $25,000 each.
As part of the UCLA–Caltech MSTP, Bhat first spent two years in medical school at UCLA, followed by four years of PhD studies at Caltech. Bhat studies the three-dimensional organization of DNA and RNA in cells in the laboratory of Mitchell Guttman, Caltech professor of biology and Heritage Medical Research Institute investigator. After completion of his PhD at Caltech, Bhat will return to UCLA for his final two years of medical school.
"My research interests stem directly from patient encounters during medical school," says Bhat. "I remember evaluating two patients who harbored identical chromosomal rearrangements leading to the same subtype of cancer. Despite carrying the same mutation and [receiving] the same treatment, one had achieved remission whereas the other unfortunately had a poor prognosis. This led me to wonder if patients with similar subtypes of malignancies might have significant differences in spatial chromosomal organization. To better understand the three-dimensional organization of the nucleus in normal and disease states, I joined Dr. Mitchell Guttman's lab at Caltech. The exciting possibility that a person's health could be improved [and] that I might one day meet a patient whose life was saved using therapies based on research to which I have contributed spurs me to continue researching disease at the molecular level."
In addition to his research at Caltech, Bhat is also the co-lead for Caltech's LGBTQ+ organization, PRISM.
"As part of PRISM, I advocate to improve all facets of LGBTQ+ life. I helped launch a series [of presentations] called 'Queer Me Out!,' which highlights queer voices at Caltech and JPL and provides a forum for the community to learn about the intersectionality of people's research and their identities."
In recent years, Caltech recipients of the de Kármán fellowship include current graduate student Shannon Esswein, Thomas Callister (PhD '20), and Nicholas Burali (MS '14, PhD '18).
Watch Bhat explain his research in a TED-style talk presented at Caltech's 2019 Science for March event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7sqWgLkc9aE
Bhat is also supported by a Ruth L. Kirschstein F30 Award from the National Institutes of Health, as well as a Chen Graduate Innovator Grant.