University of Pittsburgh
June 8, 2016

2016 Beckman Scholars

Two Pitt students will further their research in tissue engineering innovations and treatment options for an autoimmune disorder through prestigious scholarship
Contact:  412-624-4147

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PITTSBURGH—The University of Pittsburgh’s 2016 Beckman Scholars—senior Uma Balakrishnan and junior Erika Gotway—are both working toward medical careers and seek to make significant contributions to research in human tissue engineering and drug development for a rare autoimmune disorder.

A three-year institutional grant, the Beckman Scholars Program Award supports large-scale endeavors of student researchers selected by the awarded institution. It is widely considered one of the nation’s foremost scholarships for preparing undergraduates for careers in the life sciences. The Beckman Scholars Program Award was granted to Pitt in the spring of 2015.

The scholarship provides as much as $26,000 in funding for 16 months of research, consisting of two consecutive summer semesters as well as the intermediate academic year. Scholars present their work to Pitt’s Beckman Scholars Steering and Selection Committee as well as at national conferences and in scholarly journals. Pitt’s University Honors College oversees the University’s Beckman Scholars Program.

“Arnold O. Beckman was an accomplished scientist, and his wife, Mabel M. Beckman, was a world-renowned philanthropist. Both Uma Balakrishnan and Erika Gotway are precisely the types of student leaders with the potential to make notable contributions to our society that the Beckmans envisioned for this award,” said University Honors College Dean Edward M. Stricker, who serves as director of Pitt’s Beckman Scholars Program. “Through the Beckman Scholars Program Award, the University of Pittsburgh continues to support its community of undergraduate researchers with unique opportunities that pave the way for careers in scientific advancement and innovation.”

Balakrishnan’s research focuses on finding new methods for producing high-cell density tissues in laboratory settings. Working Uma Balakrishnanwithin the lab of Pitt bioengineering professor Lance A. Davidson, Balakrishnan is looking for alternative methods of tissue generation, which could have an impact in organ repairs and transplantation.

“Genetic and tissue engineering have made huge technological leaps over the past decade. We have enormous potential to affect human development, and I see tissue engineering as the next frontier for medical advancement,” said Balakrishnan, a bioengineering major within the Swanson School of Engineering. “I look to one day be at the cutting edge of researching and implementing relevant clinical applications for tissue engineering, playing an active role in the development of natural biological mechanisms for disease prevention and treatment.”

A native of Iowa City, Iowa, Balakrishnan, a Pitt Chancellor’s Scholar, founded the University of Pittsburgh Rotaract Club, a program of Rotary International. She serves as a University Honors College Ambassador and an executive board member of the Theta Tau professional engineering fraternity. She also has studied abroad at the University of Alcalá in Spain and the University of Economics and Finance in Vietnam. Balakrishnan would like to become a clinician scientist at a major academic medical center.

Erika Gotway is developing potential treatment options for the rare autoimmune disease Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome Erika Gotway(LEMS). Characterized by muscle weakness in the face and limbs and frequently associated with small cell lung cancer, LEMS has no known cure and limited treatment options. It occurs when the immune system attacks areas where nerves and muscles connect. Her research is performed in the lab of Pitt chemistry professor Peter Wipf.

“Many functions of the brain are presently not well understood by the medical community, and this makes understanding and treating disorders of the mind quite challenging,” said Gotway, a neuroscience major in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. “I plan to dedicate my medical career to conducting neuropathological research, studying conditions for which a cause is not yet known, and developing treatment options that will improve the quality of life for patients.”

A native of Saint Peters, Mo., Gotway founded and serves as president of Pitt’s Autism Science Foundation Student Club. She also has served as a research assistant at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, a peer mentor for Pitt’s University Honors College, a teaching assistant within the Department of Chemistry, and a campus ambassador for the Peace Corps.

Established in 1977, the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation is an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes research in the life-science fields.

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Ms. Uma Balakrishnan

Ms. Erika Gotway