In Bangladesh, Renesa Tarannum wanted to get advanced training in scientific research while practicing medicine. Her options were limited, but she took advantage of what was available to study tobacco use among adults and explore a text-based digital health intervention to help those wanting to quit.

“Even though my initial exposure to research was within the realm of public health, the insights gained from interacting with tobacco users had a lasting impression,” Tarannum said. It made her want to gain a better understanding of the underlying brain mechanisms and neurodevelopment that explain variations in individual responses to the same addictive substances.

She will be aided in that research as the recipient of the Dr. Ray A. Gaskins Health Sciences Graduate Fellowship. 

Tarannum is in her third year of Virginia Tech’s Translational Biology, Medicine and Health Graduate Program, where she is studying neuroscience. She previously earned the equivalent of a medical degree at Dhaka University, the oldest university in Bangladesh. She conducts research in the lab of Fralin Biomedical Research Institute Assistant Professor Shannon Farris, who studies the molecular and cellular mechanisms that underlie learning and memory.

The fellowship will support travel to scientific conferences and equipment and supplies to support independent research into how a brain region critical for encoding social memory is affected in Fragile X syndrome, the most common single-gene cause of autism and learning impairment.

“Alongside my scientific training, I have been working toward getting certified to become a licensed physician in the United States,” she said. Tarannum is making progress toward that goal while completing her doctoral research.

Gaskins is a Virginia Tech alumnus and health and fitness enthusiast who retired from the faculty of Hampden-Sydney College. He supports two annual $5,000 fellowships for students on Virginia Tech’s Health Sciences and Technology campus in Roanoke conducting doctoral research mentored by the institute’s primary faculty.

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