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Photos from Divyansh Agarwal, Linda Zhou, Edward Chuang, Kamen Simeonov, Jinyang Li, and Cedric Xia (top left to bottom right)

Graduate students performing biomedical research at Penn Medicine now have the opportunity to benefit from a $2 million donation from the Blavatnik Family Foundation.

The Blavatnik Family Foundation and the Perelman School of Medicine have established the Blavatnik Family Fellowship. For four years, the fellowship will be awarded to six students in the Biomedical Graduate Studies program per year and will cover one year of tuition, a living stipend, and education-related expenses.

The first six recipients of the award are Divyansh Agarwal, Edward Chuang, Jinyang Li, Kamen Simeonov, Huchuan “Cedric” Xia, and Linda Zhou. Their research ranges from investigating cancers to using computational biology in genetics.

The recipients said the application is unique among other grant applications they have experienced. 

Unlike most grant applications for biomedical sciences, which go to organizations dedicated to science like the National Institute of Health, this application was first reviewed by scientists at Penn and then by non-scientists at the Blavatnik Family Foundation. Fifth-year graduate student Li said this required him to write in a new way.

Fifth-year graduate student Chuang submitted "a layman's summary" of his research to the non-academic Blavatnik Family Foundation panelists, and also created a short video of himself about his research, which he said is usually not a common part of an application process.  

Fifth-year MD-PhD student Simeonov said it was exciting to get his research across to a wider audience.  

"The more general kind of audience of non-scientists at the foundation also appreciate the broader impact," Simeonov said. "That was really exciting.” 

Chuang said he began the application process for the fellowship after being nominated by his thesis advisor. After submitting a written application, Chuang said that BGS named a group of finalists in late July. 

The Blavatnik Family Foundation is headed by billionaire Len Blavatnik, chairman of Access Industries. Peter Thoren, executive vice president of Access Industries said Blavatnik wants to promote actions that have a positive impact.

“Given the explosion of technology and the explosion of science over the last decade or so, there’s such an opportunity for there to be major breakthrough discoveries in the biomedical sciences area,” Thoren said.

Kelly Jordan-Sciutto, associate dean for Graduate Education and the director of the Biomedical Graduate Studies Program co-directs the Blavatnik Family Fellowship.

“I think the more that we can do either fellowships or find ways to really endow and support our graduate education programs so that we have resources to support our students, the better,” Jordan-Sciutto said. “It’s just a matter of how we can mobilize interested philanthropists to support it."