College:College of Medicine
Degree Program:Biomedical Sciences PhD
Research Focus:Translational medicine and drug development for pancreatic cancer
Ten years ago, Aistė Dobrovolskaitė was living in Kaunas, Lithuania, when she became determined to pursue an education in the United States. Her determination and adaptability allowed her to secure a full scholarship for swimming at Western Kentucky University as an undergraduate student, opening the door for her dreams of studying science in the U.S. to come true. While balancing a rigorous swimming schedule and re-learning science terms in English that she had only known in Lithuanian, she successfully double majored and earned her bachelor’s degree in Biology and Chemistry.
Balancing her time efficiently paved the way for her to build the stamina necessary to pursue her master’s degree in Biology. As a master’s student, Dobrovolskaitė became part of the WKU Partners in Caring: Medicine in Kenya program that brings together doctors and volunteers to service several villages in rural Kenya with their medical needs. Through this program, she made two trips to Kenya to investigate the relationship between hypertension and salt sensitivity in the Kasigau community. Her days consisted of meeting people to explain the study, educating on salt consumption, collecting cheek swabs for DNA, and urine samples for electrolyte analysis. Ultimately, her research in Kenya concluded that individuals in the community consume normal salt levels and other environmental or genetic factors may be causing their high blood pressure. “Without electricity, the internet, and other resources I had in the United States, my time in Kenya fostered my appreciation for the research facilities in the U.S. and inspired me when I returned for my PhD to tackle obstacles head-on and utilize everything at my disposal to produce meaningful research I could be proud of,” she says.
Dobrovolskaitė chose UCF for her Biomedical Sciences PhD because of the technology and resources not available in other universities. Specifically, she is drawn to Biomedical Sciences because the program promotes an atmosphere of collaboration and interaction with other laboratories to allow for more growth as researchers, as well as, the ability to draw connections between fields leading to further innovation.
Drawn to improving the health of others, Dobrovolskaitė saw how important research is to the medical field and wanted to continue making an impact herself. Her research is focused on translational medicine and drug development for pancreatic cancer and pursuing compounds to prevent cancer cells from obtaining polyamines. Polyamines are essential building blocks all cells use to grow and multiply. She credits her advisor, Dr. Phanstiel, for not only the valuable tips and tricks he has afforded her in medicinal research, but also for her rapid growth in skills and understanding in the field. “I believe a good mentor makes graduate school less stressful, but a great mentor manages to make it fun. Dr. Phanstiel is definitely a great mentor,” she says.
After graduation, Dobrovolskaitė plans on pursuing a career in Biomedical research saying, “The possibility to unlock the secrets to curing cancer motivates me to move forward and continue chipping away at the unknown.”
- ORC Fellowship Recipient
- WKU Partners in Caring: Medicine in Kenya
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