HSCI's Medical Scientist Training Fellowship "An investment in the future"

Ashutosh Jadhav is passionate about conducting laboratory research. He is equally committed to becoming a practicing neurologist.

So rather than choosing between the two, the 30-year-old Harvard Medical School (HMS) student, who earned his PhD in genetics in 2005 and will receive his MD in June, ultimately plans to divide his time between conducting basic research on neurodegenerative diseases and caring for patients afflicted with them.

As a 2007 graduate of the Harvard-MIT’s combined MD-PhD Program, which is designed to educate the next generation of physicianscientists, Jadhav will be uniquely qualified to bridge both of these worlds. “I didn’t set out to get a PhD when I started medical school,” says Jadhav, “but there are so many physicianscientist role models at Harvard that it seemed possible.”

Private support for fellowship

Part of what made Jadhhav’s decision to devote four years to earning his PhD considerably easier is HSCI’s Medical Scientist Training Fellowship. This fellowship supports the training of physician-scientists by providing a twoyear stipend for qualified MD-PhD students whose thesis projects or long-term research goals involve stem cells. Jadhav, a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard College, is the first recipient of this award, which was supported by a generous HSCI donor.

“By providing financial support, the HSCI Fellowship gave me the freedom to pursue my interest in basic research,” says Jadhav. “Especially with limited funding from the NIH for training, we could lose a generation of physicianscientists if funding is a constant worry. I see fellowships like HSCI’s as an investment in the future.”

Determining cells’ fates

Jadhav did his thesis work in the laboratory of Constance L. Cepko, PhD, Professor of Genetics at HMS and a principal faculty member of HSCI. There he studied the internal and external cues that direct an undifferentiated progenitor cell to become one of a diverse array of highly specialized cells in the mammalian nervous system.

Jadhav’s studies focused on the retina. “This is an attractive region of the nervous system to study the mechanisms of cell-fate determination because it is a relativity simple, accessible tissue consisting of a fairly manageable number of cell types—seven, as compared to thousands in the brain,” explains Jadhav.

Jadhav’s research found that an ancient and ubiquitous signaling pathway, called Notch1, plays a pivotal role in determining the fate of retinal cells. Understanding the complex process of normal cell-fate determination is an essential first step in the journey of finding cell-based therapies for the treatment of retinal diseases such as macular degeneration or glaucoma, and perhaps other neurodegenerative conditions as well.

‘A powerful message’

“With the decrease in NIH funding for training, private philanthropy is becoming increasingly important to bright young students like Ashu,” says Cepko, adding that Jadhav’s intellectual curiosity and compassionate nature are the ideal attributes of a physician-scientist. “Private support also sends a powerful message to graduate students that the work they are doing is vitally important.”