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Johns Hopkins doctoral student and CBE alumnus Kunal Parikh receives national life sciences award

Kunal Parikh, a PhD candidate in biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University, was presented with a Roche/ARCS Scholar Award at the National Academy of Sciences. This is the second year that he has received the award.

An entrepreneur as well as a scientist, Parikh has spent years developing drug-delivery platforms to improve patient treatment. He plans to spend the next year pursuing patents for these technologies; submitting his research for publication in scholarly journals; visiting hospitals and manufacturing plants to conduct implementation research; and continuing to lead and mentor the team of scientists, engineers, and clinicians who work alongside him.

One year doesn't seem like enough time.

Parikh, the son of Indian immigrants, says he grew up with a "scarcity mentality," and learned to make the most of what was available to him. Prior to graduating from The Ohio State University with a chemical engineering degree, he considered becoming a Jain monk, even spending time in monasteries in India speaking wtih monks about his future. 

"They were very clear that my purpose should be to serve others above all else," he said. 

This led Parikh to explore different fields where he could make a difference, including biomedical engineering, biotechnology, public policy, and both nonprofit and for-proft organizations. He saw the potential for aligning the priorities of these fields in order to streamline research and patient care.

Parikh says bringing an entrepreneurial eye to the medical field is critical to ensuring that the developments proceed through the manufacturing and regulatory processes and ultimately make an impact at the patient's bedside. He calls it a "moral imperative."

His research focuses on developing technologies that improve the delivery of vaccines and medicine in the body. This approach includes creating technology capable of sustained drug release to parts of the body and a platform for effective and safe gene delivery that could be used to treat or prevent infections diseases.

"I hope that my approach of needs identification, platform technology development, and translation [to the marketplace] can serve as a template for others who are interested in developing impactful biomedical technologies," he says.

"It's truly empowering for me to know that I have an entire group of people rooting for me and depending on me to push these discoveries towards clinical impact," he said. "Many thanks to Ohio State, Ohio State Engineering, and Ohio State Chemical Engineering," he tweeted upon learning he had received the award. "You were such a critical part of my journey and growth."

The Roche/ARCS Scholar Award, a three-year award funded by the Roche and ARCS foundations, grants nonrestricted funds to support the next generation of life science students. Parikh says the Roche.ARCS Scholar Award program changed his mindset about what he could accomplish by expanding the resources available to him.

Of the 36 national Roche/ARCS Scholars, Parikh is one of two chosen to attend the highly selective Roche Pharma Research and Early Development symposium, "Increasing Drug Development Success: Understanding Drug-Disease Interactions Through Quantitative Systems Pharmacology," held in November in New York City.

The presentation of the Roche/ARCS Scholar Award was part of the annual ARCS Foundation Scholar Awards reception, which took take place at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. Johns Hopkins' vice Provost for research, Denis Wirtz, spoke at the reception. 


--Editor's Note: Parikh, who performed undergraduate research for Professor Jessica Winter while he was an undergraduate student in the William G. Lowrie Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering program, was a Morrill Scholar and Denman Scholar in the University Honors Program at The Ohio State University. He graduated magna cum laude with honors in engineering and honors in research in chemical engineering with a bachelor of science in chemical engineering degree in 2012.

Story by Saralyn Lyons; originally published in HUB (Johns Hopkins magazine) on October 15, 2015.

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