As a USC Stem Cell scientist studying lung disease, Amy Firth has done her alma mater proud. An alumna of the University of Bath, Firth has earned a coveted place as a finalist for the 2017 Alumni Awards from the British Council, a UK charity promoting cultural relations and educational opportunities. The awards celebrate the achievements of international alumni who studied at UK universities within the last 15 years, and highlight how their educations have contributed to their success.
Firth traces much of her success back to the University of Bath, where she received both her master’s degree in pharmacology and her PhD in pulmonary physiology and biophysics.
“Bath offered a world leading research program surrounded by a vibrant extracurricular environment in a beautiful historic city,” said Firth. “There are few places in the world that can beat that.”
Studying under her mentor Sergey Smirnov, Firth cultivated not only hands-on laboratory techniques, but also passion and scientific curiosity. During her master’s program, she also had the opportunity to pursue a year-long internship in Switzerland, which honed her research skills while building her enthusiasm for working abroad.
Bath’s focused and rigorous PhD program successfully launched Firth into the next stage of her career: a postdoctoral position at the University of California, San Diego. From there, she moved to the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and then into her current position as an assistant professor of medicine, and stem cell biology and regenerative medicine at USC.
At USC, Firth is on the quest for new therapies to treat patients with cystic fibrosis and primary ciliary dyskinesia, two genetic disorders that harm lungs as well as other vital organs. To learn more about these disorders, she has pioneered approaches for taking stem cells and turning them into mature lung tissue. She can then study this tissue in the laboratory to understand the genes and cellular signals that govern lung development in both health and disease.
In recognition of this work, Firth is one of three finalists in the Professional Achievement category, which honors alumni who have distinguished themselves in their chosen fields through leadership, accomplishments and integrity. Her fellow finalists in the category are Steven Barrett, director of the MIT Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment, and Oliver Jeffers, an artist and illustrator. Other award categories include entrepreneurship and social impact.
“I’m grateful to the British Council for recognizing my work in the field of regenerative medicine to help patients with inherited lung diseases,” she said. “I would not have been able to achieve this without the education and the inspiration that I received at the University of Bath.”