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Cancer researcher in the making

Fauzia Bi Fairoz Shaikh, a student of Parvatibai Chowgule College of Arts and Science, Margao has just returned from a scholarship to the United States of America. In conversation with NT KURIOCITY she talks about her learnings, experience and more


A tech-savvy girl who harbours the passion for writing and aspires to be a Cancer biologist and a motivational speaker, Fauzia Bi Fairoz Shaikh returned from the United States of America after a research scholarship. She was accepted at The McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research University of Wisconsin, Madison – a dream come true. Being the first student from Goa who got through the Khorana fellowship was another feather to her hat.

A third year biotechnology student of Parvatibai Chowgule College of Arts and Science, Margao, Fauzia’s journey began on May 18, 2018 and the last three months have been truly wonderful, and is grateful to now be a part of Khorana Scholar family. About her learning, she says that the program had a perfect balance between adventure and science. “One of the most heartening experiences was the very welcoming Khorana orientation program held at the University of Chicago. It was a memorable amalgam of meeting and listening to brilliant people, dignitaries and Nobel laureates. The excitement of my fellow interns was contagious.”

She got accepted to The McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research in through professor of oncology Bill Sugden. She worked with him and the graduate student mentors, Rebecca Hutcheson and Quincy Rosemarie, who she says were a fantastic combination of composure and generosity. “It was an honour to work with them, who have incessantly inspired me to be a better human being and a scientist. They were very humble, polite and helpful during my entire stay in the USA,” she adds.

As part of her scholarship she studied the Epstein–Barr virus, first human oncogenic virus which infects approximately 90 per cent of the human population and accounts for greater than 200,000 cancer cases per year. She worked on two different projects. The first overall project concerns using lentiviral vectors to deliver a CRISPR/Cas9 construct to EBV+ tumour cells. Her second project looked into an aspect of EBV’s lytic phase, during which EBV amplifies its genome. She says: “Currently, there is a limited understanding of the mechanism of EBV’s reorganization of chromatin (ROC). My goal was to investigate whether ROC is dependent on continuous EBV genome amplification, using the DNA replication inhibitor ganciclovir (GCV).”

When asked why people prefer cancer treatment abroad, she replies says that there is no match to the passion Americans have for their work. “It makes me go weak on my knees. They are disciplined with their work and manage their time well. People are less pretentious and more open to failures. There were many subtle differences in the way research is carried out abroad compared to India, which I could clearly see, and comprehend. More than research, it was about contributing to meaningful research while gaining worldly experiences,” she adds.

She also learned to enhance her thinking skills and troubleshoot the impediments in research, while spending most of her day in the lab. She says that everyone was so helpful that she felt like home in the lab. Besides, she also attended several enlightening international seminars and conferences held every week. There were also picnics, hikes, bonfires and dinners organised. She says that it was a lot of fun socialising with the Americans, trying their homemade dishes and enjoying their common games. She adds: “Madison Fireworks on July 3rd night (pre-Independence Day night) was the icing on the cake. It was a wonderful experience – first of its kind where fireworks formed various shapes and shades in the sky.”

It is always a great feeling when your hard work pays off and the final presentation day reflected just that when the Khorana scholars presented their research projects. It is rightly said, ‘Harder you work and greater is the feeling of accomplishment’.

Sharing her experience, Fauzia says: “My words won’t do justice to the richness of the entire journey but since this was my first experience abroad, it helped me grow in many ways as an individual and as a researcher. The journey had a lot of ups and few downs, from tedious Visa processes to getting acceptance in a top oncology research laboratory it was revolutionary experience.” From life skills to living independently, from Japanese buffet to American breakfasts, from learning techniques to designing experiments and from meeting people to making friends, from long walks by the harbour to canoeing in lakes, she learned to live vivaciously.

This opportunity has changed the way she perceived every situation in life. “This is a scientific exposure intercalated with tons of new experiences, everlasting friendships and new perspectives. This internship helped me explore the questioner, traveller and the philosopher inside me,” she adds.

She is accustomed to struggle and obsessed with her dreams. Apart from being honoured by Khorana Scholarship, she is a Japanese Government Scholarship Winner and published author to the Journal of Harvard University (World leading research institute of United States of America).


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