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Mass. General Program Inspires Bhatia ’20 to Pursue Cancer Research


Participating in the Digestive Disease Summer Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital this summer has solidified biology major Ishan Bhatia’s ’20 desire to conduct cancer research and attend medical school. Bhatia is a Boston Posse Scholar.

What did you do at your internship?

This summer, I worked with Dr. James Moon, who is a principal investigator in immunology at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

I conducted independent research on the impact of immune checkpoint inhibitors on T cells in the gut. Checkpoint inhibitors can be used as drugs to treat cancer, but they cause autoimmunity, which is when the immune system attacks the body's healthy organs. A better understanding of T cell responses to and interactions with these drugs will ultimately help to better treat cancer. I used mice for my study, and I learned many biomedical lab skills which will help me throughout my career. I also networked and built relationships with many important doctors.

What is your plan after graduation from Hamilton?

I am currently applying for the Fulbright fellowship for after I graduate. I hope to go to India and conduct cancer research at Tata Memorial Hospital. I would help develop CAR T cell therapy in India, which is a revolutionary new form of cancer treatment. It has already saved the lives of many people, including my father. He recently beat cancer with the help of CAR T cell therapy, after a year of failed chemo. His remarkable cure is what prompted me to conduct cancer research this summer, and I hope to help bring this cancer treatment to my home country of India so that I can save the lives of many others.

My experience this summer was incredibly rewarding, and motivated me to dedicate my career to trying to develop a cure for cancer. After the Fulbright, I plan to apply to medical school and become an oncologist.

How did you learn of this program and what other steps have you taken to pursue a career in medicine?

I learned about the position because I have grown up in Boston my whole life, and have always dreamed of working at Massachusetts General Hospital. I volunteered in MGH's emergency room as a freshman, and shadowed Dr. David Bent Smith ’74 as a sophomore. Dr. Smith is an oncologist, and I discovered my interest in cancer research by observing his rounds with patients. He wrote me a letter of recommendation for the MGH research program, which helped me to get in. I am also a member of Boston Posse 16, which helped me too because Posse and MGH are career partners.

How has your study at Hamilton helped prepare you?

I had previously done molecular biology research with Professor Wei-Jen Chang during my sophomore summer. I did a project in which I determined phylogenies of Saunders’ Peonies from the Grant Garden here at Hamilton. Professor A.P. Saunders crossed many strains of peonies together, and I was trying to determine the parents of these flowers by genetically barcoding them. Genetic barcoding involves sequencing the DNA of the peonies, and matching these sequences to their parent sequences.

Professor Chang helped me get into research since he was my first ever research mentor, and I discovered a passion for research this summer. I felt fulfilled conducting this cancer research … and this experience had a strong influence on my decision to pursue a career in biomedical research and oncology. 

Who have been your mentors at Hamilton?

Professor Chang has been an excellent scientific mentor for me. I can also attribute my successes to Ian Rosenstein, my organic chemistry professor, and Chaise Ladousa, my Posse mentor. Leslie Bell, the head of pre-med advising here helped me make a very tough decision to turn down an acceptance to a research program in Taiwan, to take a big risk and apply to this MGH program, not knowing whether I would get it or not. She has also helped me with so much else regarding my pre-med academic work, and I would not be in the position I am today without her. 

What are your extracurricular interests?

My main extracurricular is serving as an Emergency Medical Technician at Central Oneida County Volunteer Ambulance Corps, when I'm not studying for my pre-med classes or working in the lab. Posse is also one of my big commitments on campus.

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