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Three students at medical school awarded Soros fellowships

The fellowships support graduate studies with as much as $90,000 over two years for tuition and living expenses.

Binbin Chen

Three students at the School of Medicine have received 2016 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans.

Binbin Chen, Veronica Manzo and Suhas Rao are among the six current Stanford students and one alumna to be awarded the fellowships, which support graduate studies with as much as $90,000 over two years for tuition and living expenses.

Binbin Chen will use his fellowship to support his MD and PhD (genetics) studies at the medical school, where he is developing bioinformatics tools to understand patient responses to immunotherapy. He is working in the lab of Russ Altman, MD, PhD, a professor of bioengineering, of genetics and of biomedical informatics, and in the lab of Ash Alizadeh, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of oncology.

Chen was born in Fuzhou, a city of more than 7 million people in southeast China. He joined his mother in the United States when he was 18 years old. She had settled in Georgia after fleeing China seven years earlier following her husband’s arrest and imprisonment.

Chen earned a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2013. As a sophomore, he was the first-author of a paper published in The Journal of Translational Medicine. As a senior, he helped organize the first LGBT graduation reception at Georgia Tech, an event covered by a National Public Radio station in Atlanta.  

After graduating, Chen spent a year in Johannesburg, South Africa, investigating a bimolecular method to assess drug adherence by HIV patients. While there, he observed the social stigma against HIV patients and those who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

At the medical school, Chen is the co-president of LGBT Meds, an activist and social organization dedicated to raising awareness of queer health issues and promoting equal social and political rights for LGBT people. He also volunteers at the Pacific Free Clinic, which was established by Stanford medical students to address the unmet health care needs of immigrants with limited English proficiency by offering free health care services and education in a linguistically and culturally appropriate manner.

Veronica Manzo

Veronica Manzo will use the fellowship to support her medical studies.

Manzo was born in Riverside, California, to Mexican parents. Her family emigrated from small towns in Michoacán and Jalisco to seek opportunity and jobs as farmworkers.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in neurobiology in 2013 at Harvard, where she minored in global health and health policy. At Harvard, she conducted research on glioblastoma multiforme, a deadly brain tumor, and co-authored a paper titled “Passenger deletions generate therapeutic vulnerabilities in cancer,” which was published in Nature in 2012.

After graduating, she worked on research projects at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT to build her knowledge of genetics. She also volunteered for Global Oncology, a community dedicated to alleviating suffering and providing the highest quality cancer care to people in resource-limited settings.

At the medical school, she has been a member of the lab of Ami Bhatt, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine and of genetics. Manzo has tailored her coursework to focus on cancer biology and community health.

Last summer, she helped implement preventive medicine programs at the Ravenswood Family Health Center in East Palo Alto, which provides health care to all patients, regardless of their ability to pay or immigration status. She has also served as co-chair of the Latino Medical Student Association.

Suhas Rao

Suhas Rao will use the fellowship to support his medical studies and his doctoral studies in biomedical science.

Rao, who was born in Massachusetts, is the son of Indian immigrants who came to the United States in the 1980s.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics at Harvard in 2012. As an undergraduate, he worked at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, where he was inspired by the potential of the “genomics revolution” to drive a new age in precision medicine and patient care.

However, while working at the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter, Rao realized that revolutions in health care weren’t particularly useful if they weren’t accessible to those who need them most. His desire to work at the forefront of biomedical research and to translate this research into clinical practice led him to a career as a physician-scientist.

Rao continued his research on the three-dimensional structure of the genome at the Broad Institute and the Baylor College of Medicine, resulting in being first co-author of publications in Cell and in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

That work resulted in the highest resolution maps of the 3-D genome to date and revealed numerous structural principles of genome folding. It was covered on National Public Radio and in Time, Forbes, The Atlantic and Scientific American.

Rao hopes to tackle the fundamental problem of deciphering the information contained in the genome and to translate that into more precise modalities of patient care.

A total of 30 Soros Fellowships for New Americans were given to students nationwide. The fellows can study in any degree-granting graduate program in any field at any university in the United States. Immigrants and the children of immigrants, they are selected on the basis of merit. The specific criteria emphasize creativity, originality, initiative and sustained accomplishments.

The late Paul and Daisy Soros, Hungarian immigrants and American philanthropists, established the program in 1997 and awarded the first fellowships the following year. The couple wanted to “give back” to the country that had given so much to them and their children, to address an unmet need by assisting “young New Americans at critical points in their educations” and to call attention to the extensive and diverse contributions of immigrants to the quality of life in the United States.

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