Find out how the 2015 UCSD - Howell Scholars will be Working Towards Women's Health.


Pictured above with Dr. Howell:  UCSD-Howell Scholars Liza Brusman, Jessie Chen and Deepika Suresh during Foundation's Lecture Series in May.  

The Doris A. Howell Foundation announced it awarded 3 scholarships to UCSD students currently conducting research on women's health.  And while their fields of research are fascinating, the sentiment for women's health research reflects what the Foundation is all about.  Congratulations to our scholars!  We wish you all the success!

Liza Brusman: "The opportunity to continue my work on this project would deepen my understanding of reproductive medicine and enlighten my future career path. Since beginning my work in this lab, my knowledge of reproductive biology has deepened significantly. I have become much more familiar with areas of research in reproductive medicine, as well as the systematic and molecular biological pathways of reproduction.

In order to understand my project, I learned how reproduction is regulated and controlled by the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis, and how this regulates hormone production. I also expanded my understanding and knowledge of gene regulation and methods in molecular biology. I began my work on this project by using a variety of molecular techniques to characterize the function of the novel GnRH enhancer-derived noncoding RNA (GnRH-E1 RNA) in a cultured cell line. Although I have learned about molecular biology to a limited degree in classes, working in an environment that constantly tests my understanding of genetics and molecular biology has deepened and refined my knowledge and skill set. The opportunity to implement ideas and techniques daily that I had initially only understood superficially has continually made me more interested in molecular level research and reproductive medicine.

Throughout the time I spent working in the lab I have seen both the direction and scope of this project evolve. The opportunity to continue this work over the summer would allow me to see the entirety of the project and provide me with a more holistic view of research in reproductive medicine. When I began working on this project, the graduate student with whom I collaborate was already about three years into her research. It took me a little while to get up to speed and fully understand the project narrative while also learning specific lab techniques. Now, I have reached a point where I have a solid understanding of the goal and the future of this project, and am personally invested in seeing it through to its end.

My ultimate goal is to obtain my PhD, focusing on reproductive medicine and continue to pursue my passion for women’s health and medicine. This would allow me to continue to do similar research that could broaden and deepen our knowledge of causes of infertility and other reproductive problems. With a greater understanding of reproductive biology, possible cures for infertility can be discovered, allowing women (and men) to take better control of their reproductive health.

Jessie Chen: "I am a third year transfer student at UCSD majoring in Biochemistry Cell Biology. I spent the first two years after high school taking my lower division classes at City College of San Francisco (CCSF) with a G.P.A of 3.7. While at CCSF and UCSD, I obtained an excellent introduction to Biology and Chemistry. At CCSF, my general chemistry lab instructor recommended me to work in the chemical stockroom to prepare chemicals and science equipment for student laboratories. My new job gave me insight on what work in a scientific setting would be like. Along with my chemistry and biology lab classes, my new job helped me develop a fascination for laboratory research.

Since my future goal is to attend a graduate program in Biology or Biomedical Sciences, I approached Dr. Thackray about doing a BISP199 in her lab and started doing research under her mentorship in this quarter (Winter 2015).  Working in the Thackray Lab this summer will significantly strengthen my skills as a developing scientist.

Because the primary focus of the lab is generally on the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Gonadal axis and the reproductive system, I am required to think about science both the on the cellular level as well as the physiological level. How might one hormone signaling pathway alter the signaling of other pathways in the body, and how might this negatively impact one’s phenotype and cause disease? Can that pathway be blocked in order to inhibit expression of that disease? While these questions are inherently challenging, it is the process studying and characterizing these connections that make me interested in pursuing a career as a scientist, and in particular, as a scientist working to formulate specialized disease treatments.

I have always been very fascinated with experimental design, and working as an undergraduate researcher teaches me how to properly implement it. I find it inspiring to watch other scientists explore solutions to their scientific questions, and hope that over the summer I will be able to do the same with my FOXO1 research project.

In the near future, I hope to contribute to understanding the causes of disease, and become a part of the team of scientists working to cure them. Being an undergraduate researcher in the Thackray Lab will continue to give me the kind of exposure I need to become successful in this particular field of work. Research in the lab allows me to not only make connections between the classroom and the laboratory setting, but also allow me with the opportunity to explore a field of science I find particularly fascinating and relevant to women’s health. While my science classes at UCSD serve as a phenomenal platform for acquiring scientific knowledge, it is not until I am able to apply the scientific method, explore experimental design, and ask questions independent of a classroom that I will truly understand what it takes to be a good scientist".


Deepika Suresh: "Developing an educational intervention to improve genetic risk assessment in young breast cancer survivors.  Growing up, I was always known as the “school” person in my group of friends. Let me emphasize that this is by no means the same as the “smart” person. Although it was anything but easy, school was always a priority for me. I studied frequently although I gave no consideration to what all of the work was ultimately for. This all changed my sophomore year of high school, when I took my first advanced biology course. During this year, my perspective changed as I was thrown into a whirlwind under the guidance of the most brilliant yet challenging teacher. Through his lectures, I was taken on a journey that allowed me to explore the bounds of human existence, opening my eyes to new wonders and all there was to learn. For the first time in my life, I knew that I was going to do whatever it took to become a doctor and learn all there was to learn about this field. Suddenly, my approach to education was entirely altered. I entered every class wondering how I could make the material relevant to my goals as opposed to simply passing the class.

When I entered college, my priority was to learn all that I needed in order to succeed in medical school and ultimately my profession. I started in a research lab my first week of freshman year, eager to learn about what research entailed and how I could make my mark in the scientific world. Although this lab was more chemistry oriented, the topic of research truly intrigued me, and I knew that knowledge of laboratory techniques would be useful for any future research I conducted. A year and a half later, I am still in this lab and working on an independent experiment relating to cell signaling pathways in the body and could not be more excited about my research.

However, as I entered my second year, I knew that I wanted to explore clinical research. I found Dr. Irene Su’s work relating to cancer and its effect on reproduction in women and knew I had to be a part of it. It has been so fulfilling to be a part of research that enables one to directly improve the lives of cancer survivors. The feeling I get about science and research is the same passion I feel when I think about becoming a physician.

The journey I’ve gone through went from learning about the basic concepts of cancer in a high school biology class to directly seeing research conducted to fight this disease. The opportunity to make a concrete contribution to improving health would be the ultimate goal I have had since setting foot in my high school biology class. It allows me to explore the complexities of science in the real world while getting a taste of the satisfaction that comes from using knowledge to help people, which is exactly what I want to do with my life".

The best always in your efforts to further women's health!

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About the Doris A. Howell Foundation:

The Doris A. Howell Foundation for Women’s Health Research is committed to keeping the women we love healthy, advancing women’s health through research and educating women to be catalysts for improving family health in the community.

The organization does so by funding scholarships to scientists researching issues affecting women’s health; providing a forum for medical experts, scientists, doctors, researchers, and authors to convey the timely information on topics relevant to women’s health and the health. of their families through its Lecture and Evening Series, and by funding research initiatives that will create women’s health awareness and advocacy in the community.


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