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Student Profile in Human Kidney Cancer Metabolism

Divya Bezwada

Cancer Biology Graduate Program

Mentor: Ralph DeBerardinis, M.D., Ph.D.
Undergraduate Degree: Chemistry
Undergraduate Institution: University of Virginia
Hometown: Fairfax, Va.

Awards/Fellowships: F31 NRSA Predoctoral Fellowship, CMB T32 Trainee, TL1 Predoc Trainee

Divya Bezwada

How did you become interested in science and/or research?

I had a late start in research and didn't start working in a lab until the second semester of my last year of undergrad. I was in a biochemistry lab class that year that was research based, and it was my first real exposure to hypothesis-driven experiments with the goal of discovering something new (vs. traditional lab courses where you just had to get through the problem set). I loved it. I was very lucky to have a professor who recognized this and encouraged me to join a lab. I've been in a lab pretty much ever since.

Please describe your research.

A kidney with a tumor
3d rendered medically accurate illustration of kidney cancer.

My research focuses on how human kidney cancers break down (metabolize) different nutrients and if kidney tumors depend on specific nutrient fuels to grow in patients. We use stable isotope tracing to infuse labeled nutrients into patients during their surgery. Back in the lab, we can understand how the nutrients are broken down to support the various needs of growing kidney tumors, and we can use preclinical models to dissect the details of observations we make in patients. I am fortunate to work with a great team of surgeons, nurses, and physicians on this project, and I am thankful for the unique clinical aspects and patient interaction opportunities of my doctoral work.

Why did you choose UT Southwestern?

The research. I knew I wanted to study metabolic adaptations in cancer when I entered graduate school, and my mentor, Ralph DeBerardinis, is a leader in this field. UTSW is a metabolism mecca – a lot of seminal metabolism discoveries were made here and continue to be made here.

What do you think makes the Mechanisms of Disease and Translational Science Track one of the best?

UTSW is an academic medical center with ample opportunities to connect bench research and clinical observations. My work would not be possible without tight integration of these two realms. My initial time in the clinic was largely made possible by the Mechanisms of Disease and Translational Science (MODTS) track, an honors curriculum in the graduate school that allows doctoral students to spend time shadowing physicians. I cannot emphasize enough how helpful it was to have the MODTS framework already in place when navigating clinical requirements. It’s a huge bonus for doctoral students who have patient centric work.

What do you love about the Cancer Biology Program?

Texas has an outstanding multibillion dollar program called CPRIT that provides state funding for cancer research, and the UTSW faculty have capitalized on CPRIT resources to provide more opportunities for trainees. It’s worth noting that CPRIT was recently renewed for another 10 years – it is a fantastic commitment by the people of Texas to continue groundbreaking research and scientific training. This extra funding for cancer research means that trainees are encouraged to dream big while at UTSW. In many cases, you are your own limitation, and it is gratifying to have that much space and freedom to run.

– Divya BezwadaCancer Biology Graduate Program