Since she arrived at MD Anderson in 1984 for a postdoctoral fellowship, Varsha Gandhi, Ph.D., has strived to pick up the pace of developing new cancer drugs.
She combines that research determination with a deep dedication focused on motivating students to choose careers in medical science.
“It’s of paramount importance that we inspire students and trainees who will carry on our mission of combating and, hopefully, curing cancer … We must ensure that the next generation of inquisitive and intelligent researchers is ready to roll,” she says.
After completing her fellowship, Gandhi joined the MD Anderson faculty and rose through the academic ranks to become a professor in the departments of Experimental Therapeutics and Leukemia. She also is director of education and faculty development for Experimental Therapeutics.
Mentors play key role
Her passion for teaching stems from mentors who have helped since her journey into science began in India, where she was born and educated through earning her Ph.D. in plant biochemistry.
Once at MD Anderson, she realized the need for mentors to meet different professional needs, including how to prepare grants, write journal articles, understand research options and especially “how to balance your career with your personal life.”
She has advised many students, trainees and junior faculty to seek mentors of different ages, genders and cultural backgrounds.
Gandhi is president of the graduate faculty at The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS) and past chair of its executive committee.
The GSBS Program in Experimental Therapeutics she developed and directs was approved in spring 2010; about a dozen students already are enrolled and learning how to design, develop and test new drugs.
Caruso among young stars
The graduate program in Cancer Metastasis: Bench to Bedside also was recently implemented at GSBS. Joseph Caruso, the first recipient of the Isaiah J. Fidler Fellowship awarded by the program, plans to continue exploring how the novel tumor suppressor protein elafin contributes to breast cancer metastasis after he earns his Ph.D. this year.
Caruso has been mentored by Khandan Keyomarsi, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Experimental Radiation Oncology.