USC’s stem cell master’s program awards new scholarships and welcomes its largest incoming class

Stem cells (Image courtesy of Justin Ichida)
Stem cells (Image courtesy of Justin Ichida)

This fall, USC’s master’s program in Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine will be providing a remote learning experience for its largest incoming class to date. The incoming class of 46 students is a diverse group: the cohort is 63 percent female, 20 percent international, and includes both a physician and a rabbi.

Six of these highly accomplished students have earned scholarships, made possible through the generous support of Atul Dhablania and In Cha Kim, an anonymous donor, and the Office of the Dean of the Keck School of Medicine of USC. The Cardinal and Dhablania-Kim Fellowships recognize academic excellence and need, and the Dean’s Fellowships support students that have given back to their communities to promote diversity and to help the disadvantaged.

“I am so grateful for the generosity of our donors and the Dean’s office,” said Francesca Mariani, faculty director of the master’s program. “These scholarships allow us to support some fantastic young scientists as they navigate this next step in their medical and research careers.”

The Cardinal and Dhablania-Kim Fellowships

Eli Bosnoyan

Eli Bosnoyan

When Eli Bosnoyan was in high school, revolution forced his family to flee their home near Aleppo, Syria. Bosnoyan enrolled at an Armenian high school in Canoga Park, California, then attended Moorpark Community College, before finally achieving his dream of becoming a Trojan.

“Since I was a kid, I use to wear the cardinal sweatshirts in school,” he said. “I was in Aleppo at that time, and not a lot of people recognized the graphic of Tommy Trojan centered on my sweatshirt, but I assured them that it’s the school where their favorite actor, astronaut, or athlete went.”

As an undergraduate at USC, Bosnoyan double majored in health and human science and chemistry, and performed research about the effect of gut microbiota on alcohol consumption.

After graduation, he worked as a pharmacy technician, a health care specialist at Google, and a scribe in UCLA’s orthopaedic clinic. Scribing sparked his interest in attending the stem cell master’s program at USC, and in eventually pursuing an MD degree with a specialty in sports medicine.

“I want to use the tools and techniques that I will learn in this program to treat patients in the future,” he said.

Kevin Tyler Miller

Kevin Tyler Miller

Kevin Tyler Miller has a very specific goal: using 3D printing to develop new treatments for patients.

“My field of interest is bioprinting, which involves utilizing 3D printing technology with cells and various biological materials to print fully functional organs and tissue,” he said. “The stem cell biology and regenerative medicine master’s program specifically covers most of the information required for my field and is a much better match than a majority of biology-related programs from other universities.”

As an undergraduate at California State University, Monterey Bay, Miller majored in molecular biology and minored in Japanese. During his undergraduate studies, Miller determined his field of interest: innovative technologies that use stems cells and other materials for bioprinting. He then accepted a position at Cosway as a lab technician involved in product development, quality control, and formulation.

As a master’s student, Miller looks forward to learning the details of how stem cells differentiate and grow in the laboratory. In the future, he intends to continue pursuing these interests as a PhD student and biomedical researcher.

“I wish to specialize in bioprinting, with the goal of being one of the first to create a fully functional organ,” he said. “Some labs have successfully created tissue samples for the liver and heart, but have yet to make an organ that can be transplanted into a patient.”

Tal Rosen

Tal Rosen

As an undergraduate, Tal Rosen spent her summers at Stanford University’s Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine exploring two very different aspects of stem cells: their role in leukemia; and their role in the growth, regeneration and survival of sea squirts.

“I knew the stem cell field was significant and important for the future of translational medicine, and I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” she said.

As a biochemistry and molecular biology major at the University of California, Santa Cruz, she also pursued every opportunity to become involved in the clinical and translational aspects of medicine. She participated in a medical shadowing program at UCLA, where she observed the work of a cardiothoracic surgeon, ophthalmologist, bariatric surgeon, ER physician and radiologist. After graduation, she also worked as a medical assistant at OrthoNorCal, and as a medical scribe at Monterey Spine and Joint.

Since moving to Los Angeles in December 2019, she performed clinical research at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles in the Center for Personalized Medicine to develop less invasive approaches to biopsy and treat pediatric brain tumors. Through observation, she learned that physicians don’t always have curative treatments, so advancing research in the medical field is crucial. She is motivated to pursue a career exploring and creating solutions to solve underlying medical problems.

“I have collaborated with neurosurgeons for three years, and learned about many neurosurgical procedures in the brain and spine,” she said. “I am inspired by their work in the operating room, and I am extremely curious to explore how stem cells are integrated into this field of research, and how they can be brought into the clinic.”

After earning her master’s degree from USC, she plans to pursue an MD or PhD in neuroscience and translational stem cell research. Her interest in advancing knowledge in the stem cell field and desire to treat humans are the driving force for the next few years of her education and eventual career goals.

“I am a firm believer in ‘everything happens for a reason,’ and truly believe that every educational experience I’ve had and my constant dedication and motivation have brought me to the stem cell biology and regenerative medicine master’s program at USC to continue flourishing as an individual,” she said.

The Dean’s Fellows

Ayesha Mohamed

Ayesha Mohammad

Ayesha Mohammad knows that scientific research sometimes moves at a snail’s pace. She spent two years working with snails in Deborah Kristan’s lab at California State University San Marcos, where she studied the interactions between parasites and their host organisms.

While she enjoyed researching parasitology, she’s looking forward to exploring an entirely new field as a master’s student of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine at USC. The program will allow her to build upon the knowledge she has gained as an undergraduate biology student at California State University San Marcos.

“With this program, I wish to learn the molecular intricacies of stem cells and how they can be utilized within our own human physiology,” she said.

Outside of the lab, Mohammad is equally motivated by a desire to help others and serve her community. She has volunteered at fundraising events to help Muslim refugees and asylum seekers, and has also served as a mentor for students with disabilities ranging from dyslexia to epilepsy.

“I was an extremely premature baby and yet, against all odds, I survived with no disabilities or issues,” she said. “I feel extremely grateful for the privilege to be able to learn without any impediments. At the core of my purpose as a scientist is a desire to give back.”

In the future, she plans to enter a PhD program, with the goal of mentoring others and researching ways to cure developmental diseases.

Payton Olson

Payton Olson

For Payton Olson, science and medicine are a way to give back to her community and to the world.

“I grew up in Chula Vista, California and attended Eastlake High School,” she said. “I grew up in a diverse setting that allowed for multiple perspectives of the human experience to be shared with me.”

As an undergraduate at San Diego State University, with a major in biology with a minor in psychology, Olson showed a commitment to serving economically disadvantaged communities. She served as president of MedLife, an organization that operates mobile clinics, builds homes and distributes food in Mexico. She raised $12,000 to build additional homes in Mexico through the organization Tijuana Home Build.

She dedicated her science skills to the service of others by working as a biology tutor for inner-city high school students. She also interned in a neurosurgery and emergency medicine department in Prague.

For Olson, stem cells could provide new ways to continue to help others by treating neurological diseases, such as multiple sclerosis. She’s excited to learn more as a master’s student in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine at USC.

“I want to take my knowledge from this program and apply it to my future goal of becoming a medical doctor,” said Olson, who eventually intends to pursue an MD with specialty training in neurosurgery.

Marisa Felix

Marisa Felix

For Marisa Felix, a passion for women’s health and social justice inspired her to enter the master’s program in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine at USC. By deepening her understanding of developmental biology and biotechnology, the master’s program brings her one step closer to her dream of making in vitro fertilization accessible to everyone.

“I plan on making stem cells and regenerative medicine more accessible by opening up my own fertility clinic in a low-income area,” she said. “Fertility clinics should be accessible to everyone, not just those who can afford it.”

Felix is committed to breaking down racist, classist, sexist, abilist and other barriers to health care access. As an undergraduate majoring in physiology and neuroscience with a minor in human development, she worked as a Social Justice Peer Educator at the Women’s Center at the University of California, San Diego. At the same time, she honed her scientific skillset by working in the laboratory of Joseph Gleeson, studying neurogenetics.

“I’m the first person in my family to attend a UC school and to finish my degree in four years,” she said. “Now I’ll be the first to obtain my master’s degree, and the first to become a physician. And I will be one of very few Latina physicians, adding to the representation and diversity we so desperately need.”

In her future career, Felix looks forward to using stem cell technologies to address health care disparities: “I want to use my brain, my resources, and my compassionate heart to transform stem cells into a tool for the overlooked fields of women’s health and of LGBTQ+.”