- Burnett School College of Medicine
A self-described “geek” who loves how computers connect people worldwide is broadening his scientific pursuits to find ways that computers can help cure disease. Recent Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences graduate Vikram Dhillon has done his own cancer research and worked with the Sanford Burnham Medical Research Institute as he ultimately seeks to become an M.D.-Ph.D. who combines research with caring for patients and entrepreneurship.
He recently received first place honors at the 2015 Showcase of Undergraduate Research Excellence (SURE), where UCF undergraduates present posters or other displays of their research and creative projects to the broader university community. His poster, “Neoplastic Metastasis Via Differential Splicing” examined the microbiology of how cancer cells in one part of the body develop the components to travel and invade a totally different organ. Dhillon and his faculty mentor, Dr. Xiaoman Li, hope identifying such cellular changes could lead to targeted treatments without the devastating effects of traditional chemotherapy. He is also using computer and biological sciences to identify possible new plant and animal models for testing new drugs on a wider variety of specimens that will provide better predictors of a drug’s success in humans.
Dhillon’s passion for research began early at UCF. Shortly after enrolling as a freshman, Dhillon’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. And as she struggled to cope with the diagnosis, he turned to science to explain the disease, its causes and treatments. He ended up in the lab of College of Medicine faculty member Dr. Xiaoman Li, an M.D.-Ph.D. in the college’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences. Dhillon convinced Dr. Li to let him become involved in research. And he says while he made many mistakes in his early research endeavors, those mistakes lead to new knowledge and improved his skills at conducting, organizing and managing research projects.
“Vikram is passionate about doing research and is good at presentation and writing, which makes him an outstanding undergraduate researcher,” said Dr. Li.
The young scientist is also interested in entrepreneurship, and was a member of the inaugural Innovation Corps (I-Corps) class at UCF, a National Science Foundation program designed to assist faculty and students in taking their scientific discoveries from lab to marketplace. He says I-Corps helped mold his entrepreneurial spirit to find ways that computers can analyze medical data to improve health. Today’s new technologies have given scientists an almost unlimited array of data to mine for best practices, drug targets and genetics. Dhillon’s goal is to develop and perfect software that can analyze and synthesize such vast amounts of data to create usable knowledge to prevent and treat disease.
He is taking the next year or so off to apply to medical school and perhaps seek a Masters degree in another area of science – nanotechnology. In the meantime, he is also looking for ways to create and commercialize new areas of bioinformatics. His advice to other scientific entrepreneurs? “Take risks, follow through, get involved,” he says. “Break out of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to fail. My failures have ultimately helped frame where I needed to go.”