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Propitious path leads BW alumni into medical research


From lauded students to post-doctorate professionals, Remy Yovanno ’17 and Johnny Donovan ’17 found their career paths at BW. For one, it was an emotional heart-tug. The other discovered a passion for biomedical research in an unlikely place — a coding class.

Coding is Her Calling Card

Yovanno earned a Ph.D. in biophysics from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

It was a pinnacle moment for Yovanno when she was named recipient of BW’s Milton T. Baldwin Prize for having earned BW’s highest academic achievement. The Brunswick native maintained a perfect 4.0 while double majoring in chemistry and physics. It was an elite addition to a remarkable student experience.

"When I began college, I envisioned biomedical research as working at a lab bench, pipette in hand, performing experiments using fancy lab instruments. So when I took my first scientific coding class in my second year at BW, I never imagined it would become such an important problem-solving tool throughout my biomedical research journey," explained Yovanno, who was part of BW’s Honors Program and a Choose Ohio First STEM Scholar.

"The summer before my senior year, I participated in a computational biology research program at the University of Pittsburgh. That opportunity united my passion for problem-solving with my interest in biomedical research," she said.

Yovanno did her graduate studies at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where she earned a Ph.D. in biophysics. This spring, she began a joint postdoc position as a researcher in computational and theoretical neuroscience at the National Institutes of Health and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

There, she will employ computer models and artificial intelligence to study how the brain accomplishes tasks, such as learning and remembering new things, which allows people to better understand factors contributing to neurological disorders and diseases.

Yovanno also shares her love of coding with students in her community by leading a coding club that aims to teach programming skills and empower middle-school girls to find their own career passions in STEM. "Coding is a powerful tool to solve important problems in biology and medicine, with the potential to revolutionize the way we understand and treat disease," believes Yovanno.

In March 2023, Yovanno presented her public thesis defense seminar.

Painful Start to a Prolific Career

Donovan conducted extensive research as part of his studies at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, where he earned a Ph.D. in cancer and cell biology in April.

Some moments are just heart-wrenching. Just ask Donovan, whose second year at BW became somber after learning of his father’s cancer diagnosis.

"I was quickly thrown into a whirlwind of juggling the weight of the news, taking him to doctor appointments, working part-time and trying to maintain school. Unfortunately, my father lost his fight in December 2016, just a semester shy of my BW graduation," recalled Donovan.

"His fight is what pushed me into a cancer field. I did not want anyone else to have to go through that hardship. That is why I pursued a Ph.D. in cancer biology, and that is why I am still close to the field as a medical writer," he said with poignant reflection.

"BW laid the foundation for my success. I was a biology and chemistry double major. I was part of a research project that studied the potential of a small molecule compound to push cancer cells toward senescence, a process by which the cells will no longer divide. This study helped solidify my confidence that I could pursue a graduate path in research," noted Donovan.

Following graduation from BW, the Westlake, Ohio, native began a doctorate program in cancer and cell biology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

"My dissertation research focused on a rare pediatric cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma that has a dismal five-year survival rate of about 20 percent, indicating the need for new treatment options for these patients," he explained.

"In graduate school, I immersed myself in cancer research by joining a lab that used another small molecule compound with the efficacy to fight cancer. Using previous data from the lab as justification for my dissertation research, we were able to identify a novel drug combination therapy that is non-toxic and has potential to produce better results for tumors. While it may not be a 'cure' for that cancer, the research is a strong step in the right direction and can have potential to become a clinical trial with patients," he believes.

"Now that I have a doctorate, I have high hopes for my career. I work for a contract research organization called Medpace, which works with pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device companies to help design and run clinical trials for our client’s products,” he noted.

"As a medical writer, I help write the cancer-specific clinical trial protocols and other trial-related documents. This type of job keeps me on the forefront of translational research, and I am happy knowing that I can contribute to making a difference for this disease," he said thoughtfully.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (in background) was where Donovan conducted his dissertation research, studying the efficacy of novel combination therapies on rhabdomyosarcoma.


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