June 8, 2017

Keck School to host Howard Hughes Medical Research Fellow

Retinal pigment epithelial cells (Image courtesy of David Hinton)

The Keck School of Medicine of USC will host Marta Stevanovic, a third-year student and Robert W. Woodruff Fellow at Emory University School of Medicine, who has been selected by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) as one of this year’s 79 Medical Research Fellows. She will divide her fellowship year between the Keck School and the University of California, Santa Barbara. Mark S. Humayun—University Professor of Ophthalmology and Cornelius J. Pings Chair in Biomedical Sciences, and principal investigator with USC Stem Cell—will serve as Stevanovic’s mentor while at the Keck School.

Stevanovic will use her fellowship year to study dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness. In dry AMD, there is a degeneration of a cell layer known as the retinal pigment epithelium. Her research will focus on developing a protocol to generate retinal pigment epithelium from stem cells. Stevanovic hopes that one day her research will be able to restore vision to people affected by dry AMD.

Stevanovic’s fellowship is being co-sponsored by the Foundation Fighting Blindness (FFB), which is the world’s leading private funder of retinal disease research. FFB is a driving force behind progress toward cures for retinal disease.

“I feel very honored to receive this award and am excited to become a part of a community of scholars who are passionate about medical research,” Stevanovic said.

The HHMI Medical Research Fellowship Program chooses exceptional medical, veterinary and dental students to spend a year conducting rigorous, mentored biomedical research at one of 32 research institutions throughout the United States. Each medical fellow receives $43,000 in grant support, and fellows are eligible to apply for a second year in the program.

“This fellowship is a unique opportunity to be at the forefront of innovation providing an extraordinary interdisciplinary experience through the convergence of medicine and engineering. This translational research initiative gives fellows the groundwork to become leading physician-scientists in the field,” said Humayun, who is also director of USC Institute for Biomedical Therapeutics and Co-Director of the USC Roski Eye Institute.

The Medical Fellows Program was first launched 28 years ago and has helped more than 1,700 students. The fellows have multilevel mentoring opportunities to connect with alumni fellows, early-career faculty and senior investigators, and are encouraged to participate in seminars and learn from physician-scientists in various career stages.