At any given moment, more than 10,000 Texans are awaiting a life-saving organ transplant. Today, it’s impossible to freeze organs by conventional methods, because as water in organ cells turns to ice, it expands, with each tiny ice crystal destroying tissue. Doctors have at most 24 hours — and often as little as six hours — to get an organ from donor to recipient. Kavya Rajesh wants to solve this problem.
“Americans die every single day waiting for an organ transplant,” she says. Kavya is looking at how the proteins found in tissue interact with various chemicals that could be used to stop ice formation.
As a senior in high school, Kavya discovered the website of UT professor Carlos Baiz, who leads a group researching protein dynamics and membranes. She set up a meeting with Dr. Baiz and asked to join his group if she was admitted to UT. “For whatever reason he decided to take a chance on me,” she remembers. Straight away, the freshman joined her fellow researchers — all of whom were older — to try to solve this fundamental problem.
When she graduates, Kavya wants to go to medical school. No matter what kind of medicine she chooses to practice, she says, research will always be a big part of her life.
“The idea that we can help so many people by focusing on the interaction of these little molecules — these little chemicals — is so beautiful.”