“I didn’t even know research was a profession!”

January 23, 2019

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Pankita Pandya, M.D., Assistant Research Professor of Pediatrics

In 2005, an Arsenal Tech High School student stepped foot into the Wells Center for Pediatric Research and participated in an immersive program designed to increase students’ excitement for science. 

“Mission Accomplished” would be an appropriate description for the Molecular Medicine in Action (MMIA) program when it comes to that student, Pankita Pandya. Pankita is now an assistant research professor in the Department of Pediatrics (Hematology/Oncology) and the Wells Center for Pediatric Research. 

“My MMIA experience was eye-opening,” says Pankita. “I didn’t even know research was a profession!” 

Riley Children’s Foundation works with Lilly Endowment to fund MMIA. The program provides high school students an experience that takes them right into the labs where cutting-edge medical research is happening. 

That experience launched Pankita on a journey which landed her in a pretty sweet spot. She not only works in Dr. Karen Pollok’s lab with cell lines derived from tumors donated  by pediatric sarcoma patients at the Riley Hospital but also with Dr. Jamie Renbarger who heads the Riley Precision Genomics program. Pankita is certainly smack in the middle of where the most exciting science is happening in this field of custom cancer treatments. 

Pankita has been able to see translational research—that’s taking data gleaned from experiments in the lab and applying results to Riley patients in quick fashion—first hand. “In research, you can have a hypothesis that either works or does not work but it’s important to remember that even negative data is still data and it will contribute to science.”

Researchers bring years of schooling, an inquisitive mind and an abundance of talent to the labs of the Wells Center. But they also bring plenty of heart for what they do, and at times an unexpected shot of inspiration drives their passion. This past summer Pankita was invited by Dr. Renbarger to present some of her own data to a board of directors for the Caroline Symmes Cancer Endowment, which raises funds for Riley cancer research in memory of Caroline, who at the young age of 5 passed away after her cancer battle.  “When I was presenting my findings, I looked up and saw Caroline’s family deeply touched by the presentation.” “As researchers we are helping families out, but it’s a mutual effect. They’re helping us too. ” 

Now in its twentieth year, MMIA will welcome it’s next round of students to the Wells Center on March 3 and 4. While Pankita has previously served on the career panel for MMIA, this year she will lead the Precision Genomics in Cancer Workstation. Her journey—from a high school student interested in science, to a junior investigator at the Wells Center and sitting on an MMIA career panel and leading a Precision Genomics module—has gone full circle. 

But her journey is not over yet. “I genuinely love what I’m doing. And I want to make these kids in the MMIA program as excited about research as I am.” 

That’s a pretty sure bet. 

Riley Blogger

The Riley Blog is written and/or edited by members of the Riley Children's Foundation Communications Staff.

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