Yusra Aziz is a current genetic counseling student at the University of Texas MD Anderson Graduate School. She has a B.S. in Genetics from Texas A&M University, and worked as a student assistant in the Office for Diversity and volunteered for the Crisis Helpline. She sees being an advocate for marginalized patient communities as a responsibility and is passionate about increasing equity in genetic testing access and genomic research. Her current research is exploring the need for racial and ethnic health disparity curriculum in genetic counseling programs.
Rene Begay, M.S., is (Diné/Navajo) from Arizona. She is an Indigenous geneticist and public health researcher. She obtained her B.S. in Biology from the University of Arizona and a Master’s in Clinical Science from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Currently, she works as a Professional Research Assistant at the Centers for American Indian and Alaska Native Health at the University of Colorado School of Public Health while studying as an online Master’s of Public Health and Bloomberg Scholar with the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, focusing on the topic of food systems and obesity. Her advocacy interests include ensuring that Indigenous people’s voices are involved in genomics research studies at the local to national level. Furthermore, Indigenous communities are equitably engaged, consulted, and ultimately leaders in genomic studies that seek to benefit their people. Her current policy interest is to help the Navajo Nation develop a genetics research policy that will enable her community to participate or not participate in genomics research in the future.
Grace Calfee is a second-year health sciences and nonprofit administration student at Cleveland State University who would like to become a genetic counselor. In the future, she would like to work on research for genetic counseling or genetic risk factors for cancers without known causes. She enjoys advocating for people with disabilities and working with them, and hopes to continue to do so in the future. Preventing genetic discrimination and regulating direct-to-consumer genetic testing are her other advocacy goals. She feels privileged to be a part of the ACGT program, especially as the only undergraduate student.
Christina Del Greco is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan Department of Human Genetics, which she began after completing a B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of Notre Dame. At the University of Michigan, Christina studies the proteins (called aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases, or ARSs) that are responsible for preparing amino acids for cells to make new proteins. Specifically, Christina studies the role of ARSs in the mitochondria. If mutations occur that cause these ARSs to lose their function, then the mitochondria are unable to make the proteins required for generating energy for cells, which can lead to disease. Regarding policy and advocacy, Christina is interested in the regulation of genetic data, specifically but not limited to direct-to-consumer genetic testing, as well as germline gene editing policies.
Kimberlyn Ellis is a Ph.D. student in the Training Program in Human Genetics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Her research explores the interplay of genetic determinants, behavioral determinants, and social determinants of health with an emphasis on health equity. With this work, Kimberlyn hopes to elucidate the ways in which social and environmental factors “get under the skin” and influence disease onset and outcomes in marginalized communities. Prior to being a Ph.D. student, she received a B.S. in Biology from Spelman College in 2019 and completed the NIH Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program at Brown University in 2020. In 2022, Kimberlyn became a Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Fellow at The National Academies of Sciences, Medicine, and Engineering. Kimberlyn’s policy and advocacy interests include improving social determinants of health for underserved communities, reducing health disparities, increasing funding for interdisciplinary research between basic science and social science fields, and promoting social good.
Azra Frkatovic is an early-stage researcher at Genos, a company which specializes in high-throughput glycome analysis, while also pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Zagreb, Croatia. Her Ph.D. project is focused on investigating the genes involved in antibody glycosylation, a process which is highly important for the regulation of our immune system. Having the experience of working in the field of genomics, Azra decided to join the ACGT program to learn how to address the lack of support for genomic research and genetic data protection back in her home country. She also sees the ACGT program as a great opportunity to gain skills and get familiar with the ways to bridge the gap between scientific discovery and the policy-making process.
Sofia Horan is a second-year genetic counseling student at Sarah Lawrence College. She received a B.S. in Cell and Molecular Biology from Northeastern University in 2020. For her master’s thesis she researched the impact restrictive abortion legislation has on genetic counseling practice. She has particular interests in how genetics policies directly affect patient care, like the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) protections and newborn screening policies, and how to utilize genetics policies to expand access to genetic testing.
Kristen Lancaster, M.D., is currently a clinical fellow in Medical Genetics and Genomics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She received a B.A. in Biology and Music Performance from Franklin and Marshall College and an M.D. from the University of Maryland School of Medicine. She is a board-certified pediatrician after completing a residency and chief residency in pediatrics at the University of Texas Southwestern from 2017 to 2021. Kristen currently serves as the Section on Pediatric Trainees Liaison to the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Genetics. As a fellow, her clinical research focuses on the natural medical history and quality of life of children with STAC3 disorder (also known as Native American Myopathy), which is a rare genetic disease characterized by life-long musculoskeletal weakness. In addition to practicing clinical genetics, Kristen has early career interests in medical education and advocacy, specifically related to improving equitable access to genetics care for all individuals.
John Morris, Ph.D., has been a Postdoctoral Fellow at the New York Genome Center and New York University since 2019. He received his Ph.D. in Human Genetics from McGill University in 2018, where he identified novel genetic determinants of aging-related diseases, such as osteoporosis, using population-scale genetic data. Now, he is combining cutting-edge CRISPR genome engineering methods and single-cell sequencing to further understand the genetic determinants of common diseases, through identifying their causal genes and gene networks. One great thing about these experimental methods is that they are population and disease agnostic, meaning researchers can apply them to study data generated from any population to identify novel disease genes and networks. Agnostic tools are especially important given the lack of genetic data generated from diverse populations, as it is well-known that almost 90% of genetic data comes from individuals with European ancestries. John’s interest in policy and advocacy stems from this disparity in genomics research, and how funding agencies like the NIH should support programs that increase diversity in genomic studies domestically and abroad.
Kenny Westerman, Ph.D., is a research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School with a research interest in precision nutrition for the prevention of metabolic diseases such as diabetes. Kenny received his Ph.D. in Biochemical and Molecular Nutrition from Tufts University, with a dissertation focused on predicting cardiovascular disease risk by integrating molecular quantities and dietary data. His current work uses tools from data science and genetics to understand why people respond differently to changes in diet and other lifestyle factors. In the policy space, he is interested in the regulation of direct-to-consumer genetic tests that use this type of research to develop personalized lifestyle recommendations.