Yazdi Doshi, a third-year student at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, has been awarded a summer research fellowship from the St. Baldrick’s Foundation to continue his research at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC into developing more effective ways of treating pediatric glioblastoma, a brain cancer that is one of the aggressive and hardest-to-treat cancers in children.

He is conducting his research under the mentorship of Zhi Sheng, an assistant professor and National Institutes of Health-funded oncology research team leader at the research institute.

Doshi’s research is the fifth St. Baldrick’s summer fellowship awarded to medical students in Sheng’s lab. St. Baldrick’s is a national organization established to find cures for pediatric cancers. Doshi is one of 18 student researchers across the country who received grants from the organization this summer.

Pediatric glioblastoma is difficult to treat due to several factors, including the tumor’s resistance to conventional therapies. In addition, most pediatric patients are not suitable candidates for surgery to remove the cancer because their brains are still developing.

Doshi’s research is part of the Sheng lab’s ongoing research into a protein family known as PI3K, an enzyme that regulates cell replication and survival. When functioning incorrectly, the enzyme can lead to cell overproduction and, ultimately, cancer. Inhibiting the PI3K family could be a viable treatment option for cancer, but blocking the whole family has severe side effects.

Pediatric brain tumors have significant differences. Therefore, it is crucial to understand what the individual differences are and utilize this information to develop precisely targeted therapy to improve the effectiveness of treatments.

Doshi’s hypothesis is that pediatric brain tumor patients must be individually treated based upon their different traits in genetics and cell biology. For his research, Doshi is studying each individual member of the PI3K family to better develop treatments that involve them.

“Yazdi is a very diligent researcher,” Sheng said. “Before the pandemic limited research activity, he worked every day and successfully collected important data that support his hypothesis.”

With a bachelor’s degree in biology from the College of William and Mary and several years of rewarding research experience before entering medical school, Doshi is prepared to be a life-long researcher.

“Even as a physician, I never want to let go of research completely,” Doshi said. “It’s such an important part of being a doctor. I’m honored to join the ranks of past St. Baldrick’s winners from the Sheng lab. This fellowship will go a long way to helping me develop as a scientist physician.”