Hamilton is proud to recognize our seniors who have been awarded national fellowships and scholarships, many of which involve international travel. The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which oversees the Fulbright program, has temporarily paused travel to many countries due to COVID-19, but will reevaluate in 60 days.
Inspired by his surgeon grandfather and his father’s recovery from cancer, Ishan Bhatia ’20 will conduct cancer research in India at Tata Memorial Center in Mumbai after graduation. Thanks to a Fulbright research grant, Bhatia has been invited to join Dr. Gaurav Narula, a professor in pediatric oncology, on a team developing CAR T cell therapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Tata Memorial serves as the Southeast Asian epicenter of cancer research, prevention, and treatment, and the first Indian clinical trials for the CAR T project will have just begun upon Bhatia’s arrival in August.
Bhatia, a Boston Posse Foundation scholar and Dean’s List student, said he sought to do research at Tata Memorial because it’s where his grandfather trained to become a head and neck cancer surgeon. “He was my inspiration to go into medicine, and it means so much to me that I get to conduct research in the same place where my grandfather did his residency,” Bhatia said.
For his Fulbright-funded research, Bhatia will help develop CAR T cell therapy — a new form of cancer treatment that has already saved many lives. Bhatia’s father recently beat cancer with the help of CAR T cell therapy after a year of failed chemo. “A clinical trial for CAR T cured my father’s lymphoma in a matter of months,” Bhatia said.
Bhatia was motivated to learn the science behind his father’s remarkable recovery, which led him to study abroad in Copenhagen, where he took an immunology course that introduced him to CAR T cell therapy. “Taking classes abroad opened my mind to global medicine and allowed me to develop an understanding of the international scientific community, inspiring me to become part of this community with a Fulbright grant,” he said.
In India, Bhatia will assist in the clinical manufacturing of CAR T cells. “CAR T cell therapy is unique because it uses the patient’s own immune system to fight the cancer,” Bhatia explained. “Immune cells are biologically programmed to avoid targeting the patient’s own cells [which can be cancerous]. CAR T cell therapy overcomes this by genetically altering T cells to recognize a tumor protein antigen. These genetically modified T cells then directly target the malignancy, eliminate the tumor, and effectively cure the cancer. In this way, CAR T cells function as a ‘living’ drug. CAR T cell therapy is revolutionary in the field of immunotherapy.”
After he returns to the U.S., Bhatia plans to apply to medical school and specialize in oncology. “Oncology has always been my field of interest, and I hope the Fulbright will allow me to develop my knowledge in the field, while helping to make a difference and save Indian patients’ lives. I’m also excited to immerse myself in the Indian culture and learn about the Indian medical system.”
During his time at Hamilton, Bhatia presented at the Massachusetts General Hospital Summer Symposium and the New York Six Undergraduate Research Conference in 2019. For his biology senior thesis under Professor Wei-Jen Chang, he is attempting to identify the pathogenesis of polycystic kidney disease. He was also an EMT for Central Oneida County Volunteer Ambulance Corps and a biology teaching assistant.