Nikhil Aggarwal wins 2020 Quatrano Prize

Nikhil Aggarwal, a senior majoring in the neuroscience track of biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, has been awarded the 2020 Ralph S. Quatrano Prize.

Nikhil Aggarwal

Established through a generous donation by Katherine Day Reinleitner, the Quatrano Prize is awarded to the thesis showing greatest evidence of creativity in design, research methodology or broader scientific implications. The award is given in honor of Ralph Quatrano, the Spencer T. Olin Professor Emeritus and former chair of biology.

Nikhil was nominated by his mentor Mikhail Berezin, an Associate Professor at the Department of Radiology at WUSM, whose laboratory is focused on the development of optical imaging modalities in medicine. He joined the Berezin Lab in May 2019, looking for a challenging project that he could develop on his own. Some of the lab’s projects on chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) using Xenopus oocytes as a research subject is problematic because of their short lifespan. Berezin asked Nikhil to look at adding 3D –forming matrix to the media in order to form an environment similar to what the oocytes experience inside the frog.

In just one year, Nikhil turned this idea into a full new direction for the lab. First, he rapidly learned multiple biological, imaging, and electrophysiological techniques and proposed and successfully implemented crucial experiments to quantify the response. Second he identified a new 3D media (Lutrex) achieving 20 more days of oocytes longevity. Third, he provided the first clues on the potential mechanism. Based on his results, the lab is preparing a manuscript for publication with Nikhil as the first author. In addition, he convinced Berezin to recruit another undergraduate student, Ryan Lashgari, to conduct more experiments and accelerate the study. Nikhil became a true mentor for Ryan teaching him all applicable techniques, which is critical given Nikhil graduates in May 2020.

In his nomination letter, Mikhail Berezin said “I am absolutely impressed with Nikhil’s resourcefulness, intelligence, and creativity as well as with his focus, planning, self-motivation, and mentoring skills… Nikhil has demonstrated many of the necessary attributes of an excellent scientist. Based on his independent thinking, and initiative, my and our lab members’ interactions, intellectual capacity, remarkable reliability and great personality, as well as a true spirit of a brave researcher, I confidently give Nikhil my highest recommendation for the Quatrano award.”

Nikhil Aggarwal, upon notice of receiving the award said "I would like to thank the selection committee for choosing my thesis project for this year's Quatrano Award. I am especially thankful for my mentor, Dr. Mikhail Berezin, for giving me the tools, latitude, and mentorship to explore scientific ideas and projects, no matter how outlandish they may be sometimes! I would also like to thank the rest of the Berezin lab staff for providing a tremendous support system and for always making the lab environment exciting and instructive.”

Nikhil will receive his award during a virtual biology awards ceremony in May.