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Yasmin Mann (left) and Hannah Duffy, both recent UD Honors
graduates, have been selected for a unique doctoral degree program that
will allow them to pursue biomedical research at both the National
Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States and the University of
Oxford in the United Kingdom.
Zoom in, deep down
to the human body’s basic building blocks, and that’s where you will
find Hannah Duffy and Yasmin Mann focusing their attention. The two
University of Delaware alumnae recently were accepted into a unique
doctoral program that is preparing them to take aim at some of the most
insidious diseases plaguing the world, including cancer and
The two Blue Hens, both Honors graduates, have been named National Institutes of Health Oxford Scholars. This prestigious program
allows students to pursue their doctoral degrees in biomedical research
over about a four-year period, with half the time spent at NIH labs in
Bethesda, Maryland, and the other half at either Oxford or Cambridge
University in the United Kingdom.
“I was thrilled to be accepted into the program,” said Duffy, who
holds both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in neuroscience from UD. “I
was really excited about the opportunity to lead an international
collaboration in this way. I couldn’t wait to get started.”
Mann, who earned her bachelor’s degree in biology and neuroscience at
UD, was equally ecstatic to be selected. She wants to become a
university professor and pursue cancer immunotherapy research, as well
as mentor the next generation of scientists.
“I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to obtain my Ph.D.
through such a unique program where I get to perform research at such
world-renowned facilities,” she said. “I felt as though my hard work as
an undergraduate paid off and that this program was a great way to start
the next chapter of my career.”
Mann is pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Biomedical Sciences under
the mentorship of Dr. Naomi Taylor and Dr. John Glod of the National
Cancer Institute at NIH and Dr. Hashem Koohy of the Radcliffe Department
of Medicine at Oxford. For her research project, she is using
bioinformatic techniques to optimize chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T
cell therapy, in which T cells, the body’s infection-fighters, are
modified so that they can more effectively recognize and attack cancer
Duffy’s research focuses on a gene called GBA that has been linked to
both Parkinson's, which is the second most common neurodegenerative
disease, and Gaucher disease, a rare inherited disorder where a damaging
buildup of lipids occurs in various organs because the person is
missing the enzyme that breaks down these fatty substances.
Working with her mentors, Dr. Richard Proia of the National Institute
of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at NIH and Professor
Frances Platt at Oxford, Duffy is examining how mutations at
the GBA gene can impact different cell types in the central nervous
system and how this may play a role in disease development.
Both Duffy and Mann said their UD education prepared them well for
their doctoral programs, where their initial days of “basic training”
have been filled with a range of tasks — from learning new techniques
such as flow cytometry, which measures the number, size and nucleic acid
content of cells, to keeping current with the scientific literature and
participating in team meetings and seminars.
“I am thankful for the research opportunities I had as an
undergraduate,” Mann said. “By completing a senior thesis and
participating in summer research internships provided by UD, I gained
valuable experience and was better prepared for this program. For
interested students, I recommend getting involved in research as well as
activities outside of the lab including clubs and volunteering
Now, as an NIH Oxford Scholar, Mann said she will begin establishing
herself in the field and making connections with scientists in the U.K.,
as well as in the U.S.
“I hope to continue working with those I meet as I truly believe
collaboration is crucial for generating high-impact science,” Mann said.
“I also wish to give other students the opportunity to participate in
such cross-Atlantic collaborative projects, especially those from
minority backgrounds like myself.”
Duffy said the independent research projects she worked on in
Professor Tania Roth’s lab during her undergraduate and master’s
programs at UD have been critical to her success.
“That experience not only inspired me to pursue a Ph.D., but also
gave me invaluable experience in leading a research project,” Duffy
said. “I'm very grateful for all of the mentorship and advice that Dr.
Roth gave me during my time at UD and beyond.”
Duffy now will have the opportunity to lead a large research project between two labs in two different countries.
“This will be very helpful in preparing me for a career in research,” she said.
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Article by Tracey Bryant;
Photo illustration by Jeffrey C. Chase
Published December 10, 2021