GCB student wins Rhodes Scholarship

Ariel Kantor and Susanne Haga standing outside
GCB News

GCB student wins Rhodes Scholarship

Senior Ariel Kantor, has been awarded a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. He is one of three Duke seniors and 32 undergraduates nationwide to receive the award this year and one of only 45 Duke undergrads to win since the scholarship’s inception in 1904.

Kantor is a familiar face around the Duke Center for Genomic and Computational Biology (GCB). His interests in genome editing and engineering, epigenetic manipulation and hereditary diseases have connected him with several GCB faculty, including Charlie Gersbach and Susanne Haga. Working towards a career in gene engineering and translational medicine, Kantor, through Program II, designed his own major that focuses on the intersection of bioengineering, policy and the business of biotechnology. Haga is his primary faculty adviser; GCB director Greg Wray is his co-advisor. “Ariel demonstrates a unique passion to learn and deeply understand the world around him,” Haga said.

Kantor joined the Gersbach lab his freshman year. In the summer of 2016, he was selected as a GCB Summer Scholar, allowing him to work full-time with Dr. Gersbach for the sumer. His research focuses on gene engineering, specifically on the development and application of an inducible CRISPR-Cas9 platform and CRISPR-mediated epigenome editing. “His enthusiasm for research and innovation is contagious, Gersbach said. “He has made significant and valuable contributions to our efforts to develop genome engineering technologies to better understand and treat disease.”

During his tenure at Duke, he has accumulated four publications, one of which he was listed as first author. Kantor’s senior thesis is examining the development of technology-based therapies for rare diseases. This work builds upon his previous advocacy work for rare diseases and the research he has conducted with Dr. Haga. He plans to write a review of regulatory pathways underlying rare diseases and propose novel regulatory frameworks to increase therapies for patients with rare diseases.

Outside of Duke, Kantor participates in the Special Olympics Unified Sports. He initially joined the organization to pursue his desire to help others through sports, but its impact has had a far broader reach. These experiences have allowed him to not only help and encourage others but also learn about the specific challenges some of the athletes face due to rare diseases, and it has cemented his passion and motivation to advance the research of rare diseases and advocate for patients suffering from rare diseases.

Aside from his research, Kantor also works with the Duke Humans Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute. Motivated by his family’s emigration experience from Israel and Eastern Europe, he works on human rights and violence prevention and has hosted programming that sheds light on human rights violations and facilitates dialogue around issues of religion and violence. He also speaks four languages and tutors students in math and science.

After graduating from Duke this spring, Kantor will pursue a doctorate at the University of Oxford. He is currently leaning towards a DPhil in molecular medicine. He then hopes to complete a postdoctoral fellowship back in the States with an ultimate goal of becoming the principal investigator of his own lab at a research university’s School of Medicine and conduct research at the intersection of gene engineering and epigenetic regulation.

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