Carnegie Mellon University

Image of Christina Cabana

February 16, 2018

Senior Awarded Gates Cambridge Scholarship To Study in United Kingdom

By Emily Payne

When Carnegie Mellon University senior Christina Cabana found out she was awarded the Gates Cambridge Scholarship, she rushed to tell her parents. The chemistry major and Science and Humanities Scholar forgot they were on a plane at the time and had to wait almost six hours to share the good news.

"I got a hold of them as soon as they touched down. My mom was so excited and started crying," Cabana said. "All of a sudden, I heard everyone on the plane ask her if she was okay — they thought she was hyperventilating!"

On Friday, Feb. 16, the Gates Cambridge Trust announced scholarships to 35 people from across the United States who are pursuing postgraduate study at the University of Cambridge. An additional 55 scholarships will be awarded after candidates from countries outside the United States and the United Kingdom later this spring. Established in 2000 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Gates Cambridge Scholarship fully funds awardees' postgraduate study for the duration of their degree at the university.

Cabana will pursue a one-year master's degree of philosophy in chemistry at the University of Cambridge following graduation this spring.

Last winter, Cabana attended an information session by the Carnegie Mellon Undergraduate Research Office about international scholarship opportunities and began her research to find a program of study.

"I knew that if I wanted to be a successful research professor it would be important for me to understand how research was conducted around the world, not just in the United States," Cabana said. "With other programs, I felt like I had to compromise my research interests, but Cambridge had just what I was looking for — a lab that looked at biological phenomena and their connections to cancer on the molecular level."

Cabana's research interests lie in the field of cancer pharmacology, which seeks to understand and quantify the ways small molecules and drug compounds interact with pathways and mechanisms in the human body to augment or diminish the progression of the disease.

Her program of study will allow her to work in Professor Sir Shankar Balasubramanian's laboratories, which are based in the University of Cambridge's Department of Chemistry and the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute. Cabana is excited to build upon her interest and skills in researching the epigenetic processes that contribute to cancer.

At Carnegie Mellon, Cabana conducted research with Associate Professor of Biological Sciences and Chemistry Marcel Bruchez on genetically targeted photoablation, helping to create a fusion protein to target and destroy specific cell lines using fluorescent imaging techniques.

In 2017, Cabana was awarded a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, which supports students interested in pursuing research careers in the fields of science, engineering and math.

"The decision to put Christina forward last year as one of our four nominees for the Goldwater Scholarship was easy. She stood out among a cohort of outstanding students and it was further confirmation when she won the Goldwater award," said Stephanie Wallach, assistant vice provost for undergraduate education.

"Gates Cambridge is highly competitive, and, like the Goldwater, Gates is looking for that exceptional researcher who is going to make important contributions in the future. Christina is just that researcher, and her work has enormous potential to advance medical science," added Richelle Bernazzoli, assistant director of undergraduate research, who worked closely with Cabana through both application processes.

Following her year abroad, Cabana plans to pursue a Ph.D. in chemical or molecular biology and aspires to lead a research group in cancer pharmacology and teach at the university level.

"Creating more widely effective cancer immunotherapy is the big problem that I want to solve," Cabana said. She said she looks forward to gaining the skills and experience necessary to continue on this path as a Gates Cambridge scholar.

Cabana is the third student from Carnegie Mellon to win a Gates Cambridge Scholarship. Tomer Reiter, a Mellon College of Science graduate, received the award in 2015, and Scott Kaufman, a 2003 graduate of the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, was selected in 2004.