Shashank completed his PhD in Developmental Biology at the California Institute of Technology, where he studied a versatile embryonic stem cell population called the neural crest. He uncovered a genetic network in neural crest cells that is required for normal heart development in chick embryos, work that has the potential to lead to new treatments for congenital heart defects.
As a Schmidt Science Fellow working with Dr. Hans Clevers at the Hubrecht Institute in the Netherlands, Shashank aims to develop cutting-edge human tissue culture techniques to identify novel cancer-causing mutations, enable efficient prioritization of drug targets, and personalize the testing of treatment options. He will particularly focus on colorectal cancer, which lacks effective treatments for late-stage patients and is the second leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide.
Shashank is fascinated by the ability of stem cells to give rise to complex organs, alongside the fact that many of the same genetic pathways that are essential for embryonic development are inappropriately deployed by cancer cells. He hopes that his research will accelerate the implementation of personalized medicine and one day change the paradigm of care for patients with severe birth defects and untreatable cancers.