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Scholarship Recipient Drawn to Neurosciences by Father's Losing Fight Against Brain Cancer

Los Angeles - July 25, 2013 – As the 2013 recipient of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Pauletta and Denzel Washington Family Gifted Scholars Program in Neuroscience award, Christine R. Carico will spend the next year researching brain disorders like the one that took the life of her father, who survived four years after being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor called an anaplastic astrocytoma.

“My interest in neuroscience started when my father was diagnosed, but it wasn’t until his death in 2007 that I realized academic medicine was my calling,” said Carico, who was 12 when her father’s cancer struck. “After witnessing the horrific course of the disease, I have made it my ultimate goal to find a cure for brain cancer so that no other families endure the suffering mine did. This scholarship will help propel me toward this goal by allowing me to learn from some of the most talented and renowned scientists in the field.”

Washington Scholars receive financial support and participate in cutting-edge scientific projects in Cedars-Sinai’s research labs. The Department of Neurosurgery began funding the scholarships in 2004 to support students who demonstrated the desire, initiative and aptitude to make significant contributions in the sciences. Pauletta and Denzel Washington gladly lent their names and continue to take an active role in the program.

The scholarship has provided summertime positions for two students each year but recently was reconfigured to give one recipient more in-depth exposure to research techniques, enabling the scholar to make more significant contributions, said Keith L. Black, MD, professor and chair of the department and the Ruth and Lawrence Harvey Chair in Neuroscience. The yearlong internship provides a stipend of $30,000 to $34,000, and the awardee is expected to submit a research paper or abstract to a national neuroscience, cancer or neurosurgery meeting.

Carico, born in Mountain View, Calif., and living in West Hollywood, soon will earn her bachelor’s degree in neuroscience at the University of California, Los Angeles. She took a course at UCLA’s Center for Prehospital Care and became a certified emergency medical technician, acquiring skills she hopes to put to work after graduating and before entering medical school. She served in 2009 and 2010 as a tutor in UCLA’s Watts Tutorial Program, which addresses the educational needs of students living in housing developments in Watts and East Los Angeles.

During her junior year of high school, Carico undertook an optional research project, working in Stanford University laboratories. She co-authored a journal article on cells and mechanisms involved in the development of leukemia and shadowed members of Stanford’s neurosurgical team to learn more about the field.

In a letter supporting Carico’s Washington Gifted Scholars application, Richard A. Jaffe, MD, PhD, professor of anesthesia and neurosurgery at Stanford, said, “Considering her level of education, she has an excellent scientific and medical knowledge base, in some areas exceeding that of our own medical students and residents.”

Carico was involved in basic research during a summer 2010 fellowship at UCLA through the Undergraduate Cancer Research Training Program sponsored by Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science. Starting in January 2011, she worked more than a year in a UCLA lab studying a signaling pathway involved in the transformation of normal tissue into abnormal masses. At the same time, and while carrying a full academic load, she started working at the Center for Neurosurgical Outcomes Research in the Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai, where she continues today and has collaborated on six published studies.

Chirag Patil, MD, director of the Center for Neurosurgical Outcomes Research, has known Carico for more than six years — beginning when she was a high school student and shadowed him at Stanford, where he completed an internship in general surgery, a residency in neurosurgery, and a fellowship in stereotactic radiosurgery.

“Christine is the best and most dedicated undergraduate student I have ever mentored or come in contact with,” he said. “She is extremely bright and is very talented. Neuroscience and neuro-oncology have been a passion of hers since her father’s diagnosis with anaplastic astrocytoma in 2003. … Her story of fortitude, discipline and turning a big loss into a focused drive inspires me (and everyone around her).”