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Advancing Precision Medicine

Born in Cali Colombia, Dina Buitrago was only 3 when she came to New York with her mother and sister. She excelled in science at Bayside High School and became interested in pharmacology when she saw her mother, who was pre-diabetic, respond poorly to one drug and then well to another. During her college search, Buitrago learned of Hunter’s excellent reputation in biological science.

At Hunter she promptly joined the RISE Program, which provides financial support, mentoring and intensive laboratory training to students from groups underrepresented in biomedical research. As a RISE member of Professor Victoria Luine’s lab team, she studied the effects of sex hormones on learning and memory, and co-authored an article published in the Journal of Endocrinology. Also through RISE, she spent a summer in the University of Michigan lab of John Traynor, who is investigating ways to reduce the adverse effects of opioids commonly used in medicine.

For the last two years Buitrago has worked in Professor Benjamin Ortiz’s Hunter lab, genetically engineering T-cells to help alleviate immunodeficiencies. She also spent part of the summer of 2016 at the University of California, San Francisco, contributing to Kathleen Giacomini’s research in pharmacogenetics – the branch of pharmacology concerned with the effect of genetic factors on reactions to drugs. Now she’ll return to UCSF, continuing that research and earning her doctorate.

“Genetic studies are done mainly on Anglo Europeans,” Buitrago observes, adding that research must expand its reach and examine such groups as Hispanics and African Americans. At UCSF, she says happily, besides studying diverse populations, “I’ll also be able to explore how environmental factors –including diet and the air you breathe – affect how your genes are expressed.” This is all part of creating precision medicine, she notes, an area in which UCSF is a recognized early leader.

Buitrago hopes to eventually lead her own university laboratory while mentoring new generations of STEM students and delving into science policy on a national and global level. In the policy sphere, she is motivated by an awareness of how hard it is for American scientists to collaborate with scientists in other countries. True to form, Buitrago already has a clear-eyed plan to enter that sphere: pursue a policy internship with the National Institutes of Health in the not-too-distant future.

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