Two Duke Rhodes Scholars Mentored by School of Medicine Faculty Members

Ariel Kantor and Susanne Haga standing outside
GCB News

Two Duke Rhodes Scholars Mentored by School of Medicine Faculty Members

By Lindsay Key
The Rhodes Scholarship is one of the most prestigious awards granted to college students, with recipients selected on the basis of high academic achievement, personal integrity, leadership potential and a commitment to service. The Rhodes Trust provides full financial support for the pursuit of a degree at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

Duke University seniors Kushal Kadakia, Ariel Kantor, and Claire Wang were named Rhodes Scholars in November. Kadakia and Kantor both have an interest in research and policy and are mentored by School of Medicine faculty members David Kirsch, MD, PhD, and Susanne Haga, PhD.

Kadakia, a double major in biology and public policy, with a minor in chemistry, is mentored by Kirsch, the Barbara Levine University Professor of Radiation Oncology in the School of Medicine. In Kirsch’s lab, Kadakia studies cancer metabolism by evaluating the different nutritional dependencies of soft tissue sarcoma—a type of muscle cancer.  He is also interested in how targeting metabolic enzymes and pathways in these tumors can affect radiation response.

“Kushal has been an outstanding member of our lab. He brings a special combination of intelligence, strong work ethic, and vision not only for his research, but for the kind way he interacts with others,” said Kirsch. “Initially, Kushal worked under the direction of a post-doctoral fellow, but he is now independently conducting research at a very high level and is poised to make his own important discoveries.”

In addition to working in the Kirsch lab, Kadakia is also conducting a research project with Mark McClellan, MD, PhD, the Robert J. Margolis Professor of Business, Medicine, and Health Policy and founding director of Duke’s Margolis Center for Health Policy. Kadakia has been an author on several articles. He first became interested in the intersection of healthcare and policy as a pre-teen.

“When I was in middle school, Obama had just been elected and was launching the Affordable Care Act,” said Kadakia. “It got me thinking about healthcare at a young age.”

Kadakia plans to pursue a master’s degree in health policy at Oxford University before returning to the United States for medical school.

“In Britain, healthcare is more centralized and integrated with social services,” said Kadakia. “Studying in the UK will expose me to different policy approaches for improving the fragmented healthcare system in the U.S.”

Kantor, who is completing a self-designed major at Duke focused on the intersection of bioengineering, policy and the business of biotechnology, is mentored by Susanne Haga, PhD, associate professor of medicine in the School of Medicine.  Haga, an expert in genomic medicine, also serves on the leadership team for the Duke Center for Applied Genomics and Precision Medicine.  

“A few years ago, when Ariel approached me about his interest in pursuing a program II major and asking me to serve as his advisor, I was impressed with his ambition and efforts to create an inter-disciplinary program that would provide him with a strong foundation that would benefit several different career paths,” said Haga. “As we approach his final semester at Duke, it is clear that Ariel has truly gained a strong understanding of the intersection of business, science, and public policy. This achievement was also facilitated in part by his work over several summers in the lab or at venture capital firms to complement his coursework with firsthand experience.”

Working with Haga, Kantor analyzed the impact of clinical guidelines on the implementation of tests in laboratories. This work was published in 2018 in the journal Health Affairs.  His senior thesis examines the impact of new regulatory pathways, particularly accelerated approval pathways, on bringing novel therapies to market.  Another current project investigates the economic, regulatory, and ethical considerations underlying gene therapy products.

Kantor has also worked with Charles Gersbach, PhD, the Rooney Family Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering, to study genetic engineering, specifically the development and application of an inducible CRISPR-Cas9 platform and CRISPR-mediated epigenome editing.

“Research has been a big component of my undergraduate career, and I am so grateful to my outstanding mentors,” said Kantor.

For his Rhodes scholarship, Kantor plans to pursue a MBA as well as PhD in Clinical Medicine and Applied Immunology at Oxford University.

Originally posted on the Duke Medical School Blog

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